What Is Anosmia? – Symptoms, Causes, And How To Cope

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Written by , MSc Shaheen Naser MSc Experience: 3 years

One in 10,000 individuals is born with congenital anosmia, i.e., they don’t have any sense of smell right from when they are born (1). Anosmia is the medical term given to define the loss of sense of smell.

You must have experienced anosmia too. Remember the time when you were suffering from a bad cold, and all the foods tasted the same or, in other words, bland? Of course, your congested nostrils are to be blamed here. However, anosmia can be triggered by many other factors. It can also be temporary, partial, or permanent – depending on its cause. It can be a struggle to live without the ability to smell. This article will help you in your struggle against anosmia. Read on for tips to deal with this condition.

Table Of Contents

What Is Anosmia?

Anosmia is a condition in which a person loses his/her sense of smell partially or completely. It is usually a temporary occurrence caused by nasal congestion following a cold or flu. However, older adults are at risk of losing their sense of smell permanently due to varying health complications that surface with advancing age. Other health conditions that affect your brain or nerves, such as tumors or trauma to the head, are also likely to cause permanent loss of smell in individuals of all ages.

Let’s take a look at the causes.

What Are The Causes And Risk Factors?

Most of the times, anosmia is a result of blocked or swollen nasal passages. This prevents odor molecules from entering your nasal passage and results in loss of smell.

There are a few other causes that are believed to trigger anosmia (2). They are as follows.

Irritation of the mucus membrane because of:

  • Sinusitis
  • Cold
  • Flu
  • Chronic congestion due to nonallergic rhinitis
  • Smoking
  • Influenza
  • Allergic rhinitis
  • Chemical or toxic fumes
  • Alcohol use

Among these, the common cold is one of the leading causes of anosmia for many. Also, anosmia caused by these triggers usually eases with time.

Other factors that can lead to the blockage of your nasal passages are:

  • Tumors
  • Polyps
  • Deformities of the bone inside the nasal septum or nose

As mentioned earlier, damage to your brain and/or nerves can also trigger anosmia. Your nasal passage has receptors that carry information from the nerves inside your nose to the brain. Any damage to these nerves can lead to an altered sense of smell or a complete loss of it. Various medical conditions can trigger this damage. They are:

  • Brain tumors
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Huntington’s disease
  • Schizophrenia
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Stroke
  • Diabetes
  • Epilepsy

Some factors can put you at a higher risk of developing anosmia. They include:

  • Advancing age
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Medications like antibiotics and high blood pressure medicines
  • Exposure to chemicals
  • An injury to the head or brain
  • Medical treatments like radiation and chemotherapy
  • Malnutrition
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Smoking tobacco

In very rare cases, some infants are born without a sense of smell owing to genetic factors. This condition is referred to as congenital anosmia.

Although the main symptom of anosmia is the loss of smell, the affected individuals may also exhibit a few other signs because of their reduced or lost sense of smell.

Signs And Symptoms

  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of libido
  • Depression
  • Altered sense of smell
  • Sudden weight loss or gain

If you decide to visit a doctor for anosmia, you may be asked to undergo the following tests to find out the cause of your condition.

How To Diagnosis Anosmia?

Your healthcare provider or doctor may first begin by making a note of the symptoms you have been experiencing. They may then go ahead and examine your nose, undertake a complete physical examination, and even ask about your medical history (3).

Depending on these examinations and your replies, your doctor may suggest you take one or more of the following tests:

  • Smell ID test
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan to view the brain
  • Computerized tomography (CT) scan of the brain
  • Nasal endoscopy to look into your nasal passage
  • Diagnostic lab testing
  • Or be referred out to other specialists

Once the cause of your condition is determined, your doctor will suggest a treatment procedure accordingly.

Coping And Treatment Of Anosmia

If the onset of anosmia is triggered by a cold or flu, you may not need additional treatment for it as your sense of smell will return when your nasal congestion gets better (4).

Other treatment strategies for anosmia may include:

  • Medications like antihistamines and steroids
  • A nasal decongestant or nasal sprays
  • In case you have polyps, they may need to be removed surgically.
  • Acupuncture
  • Quit taking any medications that could be triggering anosmia.
  • Smell training
  • Addressing other known causative factors that may be a change in diet/lifestyle

Unfortunately, anosmia is not always treatable if the cause is advancing age or if it is present since birth. Hence, in such scenarios, one must try and cope with this condition before it leads to further complications or accidents.

A few ways that can help an affected individual live with anosmia are:

  • Install fire detectors and alarms in your house.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Limit alcohol intake.
  • Try and avoid refrigerating leftovers as you may not be able to tell whether they have gone bad or not.
  • Keep your stress under control.

Coping with anosmia will be much easier for those who have been battling this condition for a while. But for those who have lost their sense of smell recently, things may be a tad bit difficult.

Listed below are some complications experienced by those suffering from anosmia, especially those who have been diagnosed with the condition recently.

Complications Of Anosmia

Some complications that surface with anosmia due to an individual’s inability to smell are:

  • Inability to taste food can cause an affected individual to end up eating too much or too little.
  • Food poisoning
  • An increased risk of getting trapped in a fire as the affected individual will be unable to detect the smell of smoke.
  • Loss of intimacy or libido due to the inability to smell scents (pheromones)
  • Loss of ability to smell chemicals or other hazards substances at home
  • Mood disorders that may lead to depression
  • Social withdrawal
  • Inability to smell body odors

While none of us can relate to what a person suffering from anosmia is going through, the least we can do is to empathize with them and offer support in any way we can.

If you have any more questions or doubts about anosmia, feel free to reach out to us in the comments below.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does acupuncture help loss of smell?

Acupuncture is one of the many treatments that has been found effective in restoring the sense of smell. However, one must only get it done by a professional.

Can congenital anosmia be cured?

Currently, there is no cure or treatment for congenital anosmia. Individuals born with it must try and cope with the condition from an early age.

Can anosmia be reversed?

Anosmia can be reversed if it is caused by conditions like nasal polyps, sinusitis, or the common cold. However, if it surfaces as a result of older age or is present since birth, it cannot be reversed.

When to visit a doctor for anosmia?

Visit your doctor when you suspect your sense of smell has not returned after full recovery from a known condition or for no known reason. Early detection may prevent further complication.


  1. Congenital Anosmia”, Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center, National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences
  2. Anosmia”, Star Pearls, US National Library of Medicine
  3. Anosmia: diagnosis and management”, Current Opinion in Otolaryngology & Head and Neck Surgery, US National Library of Medicine
  4. Re-establishment of olfactory and taste functions”, GMS Current Topics in Otorhinolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery, US National Library of Medicine
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Dr. Kevin Kuo

Dr. Kevin KuoNaturopathic doctor and Licensed Acupuncturist

Dr. Kuo is a Naturopathic doctor (ND) and Licensed Acupuncturist (LAc) practicing in Seattle, WA. He received his Doctorate in Naturopathic Medicine and Master of Science in Acupuncture and East Asian Medicine from the prestigious Bastyr University. He believes in educating and helping people to establish a deeper understanding and stronger connection with their own body. The word “Doctor” originates...read full bio

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