Smell That? Some Can’t: Anosmia Awareness Day 2019

by Robert Clunie

Smell That? Some Can’t

It is something, or a few, for that matter, that we often take for granted. We’re aware of some more than others, but of all our sensory faculties, we’re not as appreciative of our sense of smell. Look, it probably isn’t the end of the world should we lose this function – many have – but could you imagine life without all the wonderful aromas we so dearly love, never mind its effect on your taste? Think freshly baked bread, that new car smell, coffee and vanilla.

Anosmia is a common problem, but it usually is a fleeting symptom that often accompanies other viral infections like the common cold. It can become permanent following head trauma, though, and ageing may also impact the development thereof. Simply put, anosmia is the inability to perceive any odour due to various contributory factors that can affect the functioning of the olfactory. Today is anosmia awareness day and we’ll run through some of the intricacies.

First, let’s start with the basics of smell and the way the brain interprets the information that an object sends to it. Every object (some more than other) release molecules that can stimulate the olfactory cells that are located deep within the nose. The cells send the information to the brain and there the smell is identified. Anosmia therefore is a condition where the relay process is interfered with. A variety of reasons, such as nasal congestion, nasal blockage, or damage to the nerve cells can all contribute to the loss of smell.

The permanent loss of smell can also interfere with our quality of life. It is a well-known fact that your sense of smell greatly impacts your sense of taste. Your tongue’s taste buds can only interpret a finite amount of information and your sense of smell amplifies the eating experience. While not a total disaster, anosmia can and will affect your ability to perceive a couple of odours indicative of danger. You won’t be able to detect gas leaks, smoke from nearby fires or foodstuffs that might have gone off.

The diagnosis is rather simple; if you’re sensing that your sense of smell is not as acute as it used to be or it is declining altogether, then you might be suffering from anosmia. Here are a few reasons, or causes, if you will, that may contribute to one’s loss of smell:

  • Nasal congestion from a cold, allergy, sinus infection, or poor air quality is the most common cause of anosmia.
  • Nasal polyps — small noncancerous growths in the nose and sinuses that block the nasal passage.
  • Injury to the nose and smell nerves from surgery or head trauma.
  • Exposure to toxic chemicals, such as pesticides or solvents.
  • Certain medications, including antibiotics, antidepressants, anti-inflammatory medication, heart medications, and others.
  • Cocaine abuse.
  • Old age. Like vision and hearing, your sense of smell can become weaker as you age. In fact, one’s sense of smell is most keen between the ages of 30 and 60 and begins to decline after age 60.
  • Certain medical conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, nutritional deficiencies, congenital conditions, and hormonal disturbances.
  • Radiation treatment of head and neck cancers.

Treatments, though, might prove a little trickier. There are a couple of reasons why an individual may experience a loss of their sense of smell – each symptom will therefore require specialised treatment to help alleviate not only the said symptom, but the ensuing anosmia, too.

  • Colds and nasal congestion usually resolve themselves. There are no cures for the common cold, in fact. The symptoms can be treated, but the infection itself usually passes on its own. If congestion persists or worsens then it is advised that you see a doctor.
  • Polyps and growths can also obstruct your nose’s airway. In most cases a small surgical procedure can remedy this.
  • In many cases medication that a person takes can affect functions of other parts of their bodies. This is also true with the sense of smell. Usually alternative treatments can solve this, but one should not stop certain medicine without consulting a doctor.
  • Smoking is also a leading cause of the loss of smell. There are no two ways about it. Quitting outright will restore your sense of smell.
  • Unfortunately, if a loss of smell occurs due to the natural ravages of time or if nerve damage occurred due to an accident, not much can be done. In such a case a person would have to make use of technological advancements to make life easier.

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