Like any of our other senses, the sense of smell plays an important role in our lives. It can warn us of dangers such as a fire, gas like, spoiled food, etc., and alert us to unpleasant body odors!
You may experience a reduced sense of smell due to brain injury or ailments like colds, asthma, infections, anosmia and nasal growths that affect the sensory cells inside your nose, called olfactory sensory neurons, causing temporary or permanent loss of smell.
Your loss of smell may also signal serious health disorders including Parkinson’s disease, and because your sense of smell is connected to the sense of taste, you may lose both of them at the same time.
There are a number of nose problems that may seem unserious to you but could actually cost you your sense of smell if left untreated. This list will show you the 5 ways that you could lose your sense of smell.
#1 – Nasal polyps
Nasal polyps are common non-cancerous small growths in the nose and sinuses that can be caused by allergies, colds, asthma, infections, etc.
Nasal polyps block your nasal passage and result in temporary loss of sense of smell. However, sometimes this nasal blockage can result in anosmia which is the total or partial loss of sense of smell.
If you don’t have a severe cold or asthma but one day you notice that there is a change in the way some familiar things smell or that, for example, the scent of oranges which can be smelled from yards away is weaker, it may be a symptom of internal nasal trauma.
Nasal trauma occurs when the blood vessels inside the nose get damaged due to infection, poor air quality or one thing in particular that people may not realize is dangerous: nasal piercing.
#2 – Nose piercings
Nose piercing has been practiced for over 4,000 years ago by different cultures across the world. Even today, nose piercings are still appreciated and used for aesthetic enhancement by people of different ages.
Unfortunately, however, nose piercing can sometimes lead to unforeseeable consequences: trauma, infection, and septal hematoma.
It is possible for your body to reject your nose piercing which can be related to the type of metal it is made from.
When your nose rejects the metal, it can lead to injury or sinusitis, which is the inflammation of the mucous membrane, or other types of infection that may either cause a partial or complete loss of sense of smell.
A piercing in the septum, the cartilage that separates the nostrils, can especially put you at greater risk of septal hematoma — a condition where blood collects between your nostrils. Inflammation, swelling, pain that ranges in severity are also some risks that can lead to loss of smell.
Septal hematoma requires urgent treatment as it does not only put you at risk of losing your sense of smell but also the blood supply to the nasal septal if left untreated.
#3 – Traumatic brain injury/surgery
The loss of sense of smell, or anosmia, after a head injury is as high as 30 percent. Since the sense of smell and taste are linked, people also report losing their sense of taste at the same time as their sense of smell.
The loss of smell after brain injury is either temporary or permanent. Health experts suggest that if you don’t regain your sense of smell and taste within six months after the injury, it is highly likely that the damage is permanent.
Injury of the olfactory smell nerves that send the sensation of smell from the nose to the brain may also cause the loss of smell, and sometimes injury can result from nose surgery and affect the sense of smell.
#4 – Medication/cancer treatment
Chemotherapy side effects include hair loss, loss of appetite, fatigue, bowel problems, skin problems, and, in some cases, loss of smell and taste. Chemotherapy drugs attack the rapidly-growing cancer cells but they also attack other cells and affect the normal function of nerves in the body.
Other cancer treatments including radiation therapy, surgical oncology may also result in partial or total loss of smell.
Cancer treatments including radiation therapy, surgical oncology, and chemotherapy drugs may result in partial or total loss of sense of smell as well as taste.
Some powerful medications such as antibiotics, antidepressants, antipsychotic drugs may cause partial or total loss of smell followed by a loss of taste.
#5 – Alzheimer’s disease & Parkinson’s disease
Sudden or gradual problems with your sense of smell may signal neurodegenerative diseases: Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease which occur with changes in the function of neurons that die as a result.
Contrary to popular belief, neurons do not regenerate or divide. When neurons die, they are lost forever.
Parkinson’s disease kills neurons that produce dopamine to communicate with other cells in the brain, whereas Alzheimer’s disease destroys neurons related to memory, including the hippocampus and entorhinal cortex.
Medical studies suggest that the alpha-synuclein clumps found in the brains of Parkinson’s patients may travel to other regions of the brain and affect the part that is in charge of the sense of smell before affecting motor function.
This explains why Parkinson’s patients, before getting diagnosed, often report a reduced sense of smell, also known as hyposmia which is the least noticed, early sign of Parkinson’s.
In the same way, Alzheimer’s disease may affect the function of olfactory sensory neurons responsible for the sense of smell.
According to new studies, people with a poor sense of smell are more likely to develop dementia.
If you ever experience a change in your sense of smell, you must not overlook it no matter what, as it may actually help you detect potential health conditions such as infections that, if left untreated, could lead to life-threatening health disorders.