Your sense of smell is one of your five basic senses, apart from touch, vision, hearing, and taste. It delights you with the aromas of your favourite food or other pleasant fragrances around you. 

Your sense of smell also acts as a warning system, alerting you to danger signals such as a gas leak, spoiled food, or a fire. 

A loss in your sense of smell may affect the quality of your life. It can also be a sign of more serious health problems.

Read further to understand more about the types and causes of abnormalities in smell and how you can manage them.

Types of Smell Problems

Abnormalities in the sense of smell can be of the following types:

  • Anosmia. It is a condition in which there is a complete loss of your sense of smell. It may occur due to a complete breakdown in the transmission of nerve impulses.

  • Hyposmia. It is a reduction in the ability to detect the smell, due to lower transmission of nerve impulses to and from your nose.

  • Hyperosmia. It is an increased sense of smell, which may be because of neurosis (a mental illness causing strong feelings of fear and worry) or sometimes as a part of a seizure disorder (uncontrolled jerking of your body due to an abnormal electrical activity in your brain).

  • Parosmia. It is an abnormal sense of smell such as when the smell of something familiar is distorted or may appear different. It can be due to cross-connections of the olfactory nerves (nerve fibres carrying the sense of smell from your nose to the smell center in your brain).

  • Phantosmia. It is the sensation of an odour that is not actually present. It may be caused by a head injury or an upper respiratory infection, affecting your nose, throat and airways.

Causes of Smell Abnormalities

You can develop abnormalities in smell due to the following factors:

  • Old age

  • Sinusitis (a condition in which the cavities around your nasal passages become infected and swollen)

  • Smoking

  • Nasal polyps (growths in your nasal cavities)

  • An injury to your head

  • Hormonal imbalance

  • Dental problems like severe cavities and gum diseases

  • Exposure to certain chemicals, such as insecticides and solvents

  • Medications like antibiotics

  • Radiations used for the treatment of head and neck cancers

  • Conditions that affect the nervous system, such as Parkinson’s disease (a brain disorder that affects your movements)

Treating Smell Abnormalities

Smell abnormalities can be treated easily by correcting the cause of the abnormality. 

Other treatment modalities can include:

  • Correcting underlying health problems

  • Quitting smoking

  • Undergoing surgery to remove growths inside your nasal cavity

  • Certain medications

  • Using intranasal sprays (usually steroids)

  • Using systemic steroids. After a bad viral infection, your doctor can prescribe them to regenerate damaged nerve endings

  • Nasal douching and nasal toilet. In this, your nasal cavity is flushed out with certain irrigants to get rid of crusts, secretions, etc. This can enhance your breathing.

  • Smell training. It is done by actively smelling four different types of essential oils every day to retrain your brain to recognize different smells.

Some spontaneously regain their sense of smell without any intervention, whereas, others regain their ability to smell after recovering from the condition that was causing the problem. 

However, make sure to consult a doctor if you are experiencing problems with smell before it starts affecting the quality of your life.

Disclaimer: This article is written by the Practitioner for informational and educational purposes only. The content presented on this page should not be considered as a substitute for medical expertise. Please "DO NOT SELF-MEDICATE" and seek professional help regarding any health conditions or concerns. Practo will not be responsible for any act or omission arising from the interpretation of the content present on this page.