The sense of smell isn’t something we typically take for granted, but it can affect everyday life when it’s gone. If you can’t smell, it may be more difficult to taste food, and may even lead to dangerous situations if you can’t detect smoke or a gas leak.
While it is possible for someone to permanently lose their ability to smell, it is much more common for it to only happen for a period of a few days to a couple of weeks. Anosmia (the complete loss of smell) and hyposmia (partial loss of smell), affect thousands of Americans each year.
How Does the Nose Work?
To understand why anosmia and hyposmia can occur, it is important to understand how a healthy nose works. Individual molecules become suspended in the air and are inhaled through the nose. Once inhaled, some molecules attach to receptors in the mucus membrane. These nerves connect to the brain and the brain processes certain molecules as smells. When there is a blockage in these receptors, the act of smelling can be affected.
What Can Cause the Loss of Smell?
Most cases of anosmia and hyposmia come from the congestion of the mucus membranes. This means that the most common causes of this issue are associated with:
- Sinus infections
- Nonallergic rhinitis
While much less common, other possible causes include:
- Injury to the nose: if you have suffered a broken nose or any sort of trauma, it may have damaged the nerves.
- Nasal polyps: these are non-cancerous growths that can block the nasal passage as well as receptors.
- Natural aging: just like hearing and eyesight, getting older can affect how well you can smell.
- Exposure to chemicals: if you’re using harsh cleaning chemicals or outdoor landscaping chemicals, inhaling the molecules from these solutions may damage cells inside your nose.
When to See an ENT Doctor in Phoenix
The loss of smell can be caused by a lot of common, non-threatening issues. Most of the time, anosmia or hyposmia will clear up in a few days to a few weeks. However, if you are experiencing symptoms for longer than this period of time, or if your sense of smell doesn’t return, it may be time to consult with a doctor.