When it comes to a sense of smell, the recovery process can vary from person to person. Depending on the cause of the smell loss, it is possible that some people may regain their sense of smell in a few weeks or months, while for others, the process may take much longer.
In this article, we will explore the potential time frames for a sense of smell to return and some tips to help speed up the recovery process:
Causes of Loss of Smell
Loss of sense of smell can have a variety of causes, some temporary and some permanent. It may result from problems in any part of the process involved in smelling, including inhalation and reception, passage from the nose to the brain, or interpretation in the brain. Common causes include:
- Acute viral rhinitis (cold)
- Nasal polyps
- Chronic post-nasal drip
- Nonallergic rhinitis
- Medications such as nasal decongestants and anti-depressants
- Facial trauma
- Head trauma
- Lupus and sarcoidosis
Factors that complicate loss of smell include age –older individuals often experience a decline in ability to smell– and poor indoor ventilation. In rare cases neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s may play a part.
In some instances no cause can be identified and it is referred to as idiopathic anosmia. Anosmia that develops suddenly or very rapidly is called episodic anosmia. Most recovery times vary with the cause but should improve over time without medical intervention. In general acute viral rhinitis should improve within 7-10 days while treatment for most chronic conditions should provide relief over weeks or months. When recovery does not occur after this time it is considered permanent anosmia/hyposmia (partial loss).
Types of Loss of Smell
When it comes to the loss of smell, there are two main types, depending on the cause:
- Anosmia: Anosmia is a complete loss of smell – one is unable to detect any odors. This can be caused by damage to the nose or olfactory nerve, nasal polyps, and some chronic sinus conditions. Anosmia may also be congenital (present at birth).
- Hyposmia: Hyposmia is a decreased smell sensitivity. A person experiencing hyposmia may be able to detect odors, but they will not be as strong as usual. Possible causes of hyposmia include viruses, aging, head trauma, and smoking.
Reasons associated with anosmia and hyposmia can vary greatly in severity – in rare cases some medical treatments are available; however most treatments focus on minimizing the symptoms associated with each condition. Treatment for anosmic and hyposmic patients include:
- Dietary modifications such as adding spice and seasonings to food, avoiding processed food items that use smell as a major selling point or flavoring agent (i.e. pre-packaged microwavable dinners).
- Consulting a physician for medication prescriptions or supplements that may help improve odor recognition and memorization skills.
- Exploring available support systems for emotional distress associated with loss of sense of smell like counseling sessions or therapeutic groups on topic-based topics such as coping strategies for anosmic people or group mindfulness exercises focusing mainly on developing strategies for psychological coping strategies related to sensory perception impairments.
Causes of Temporary Loss of Smell
Not being able to smell can be a major concern for many people. While a temporary loss of smell is usually nothing to worry about, it can still be disruptive and concerning. Understanding the potential causes of temporary loss of smell can help shed some light on what might be causing the problem.
Let’s take a deeper look into the causes of temporary loss of smell:
The common cold is one of the most frequent causes of a temporary decrease in or loss of smell. A cold can cause irritation and inflammation of the structures inside the nose, including the area that helps with our sense of smell (olfactory neurons). The normal functioning of these cells may be affected and disrupt their ability to sense odors, which results in reduced or lost sense of smell.
Nasal congestion due to a cold can also block air flow to the olfactory receptors, making it even more difficult for them to detect and process smells. Symptoms associated with a common cold may last anywhere from five to 10 days after which taste and smell usually return.
In some cases though, post-cold olfactory dysfunction (PCOD) can occur – this refers to lost or decreased sense of smell that continues after bacterial or viral infection has gone away. Other causes have been suggested such as:
- Damage to olfactory neurons due to inflammation caused by certain viruses.
- Desensitization due to repeated exposure.
- Psychological factors.
A sinus infection (sinusitis) is a common cause of temporary loss of smell. Sinus infections occur when the sinuses become blocked or inflamed, usually due to an allergy or cold. The swollen membranes may cause a thick, coloured discharge and block the hairs located in the nose that help us to smell. Other associated symptoms may include facial pain and pressure, headache, and difficulty breathing through your nose.
For many people, their sense of smell returns once inflammation in the nasal passages has been reduced. However, this can take some time – typical recovery periods are around 4-10 weeks depending on the severity of your infection and other factors such as age-related changes to your sinuses.
Your doctor can provide medications such as antibiotics and decongestants to help manage your symptoms until you are able to breathe better and regain normal smelling function again. Your healthcare provider may also recommend simple lifestyle measures such as:
- Rinsing out your nose with salt water which can help reduce inflammation.
- Limiting smoking or exposure to second-hand smoke during this period, as this can further irritate your already swollen nasal passages.
Allergies to pollen, dust, pet dander and other substances can cause a temporary loss of smell. People with allergies may find that on days when the pollen count is high or the outdoors is particularly dusty, they cannot smell things as well. This is due to inflammation in the nose caused by allergies, which prevents odors from reaching nerve receptors in the nose.
Over-the-counter antihistamines or prescribed antibiotics can reduce this inflammation and help restore your sense of smell.
Causes of Permanent Loss of Smell
There are a variety of reasons why a person may experience a permanent loss of smell. It could be due to a traumatic brain injury, a viral infection, exposure to certain chemicals, or even long-term use of certain medications. Additionally, it can be caused by a variety of diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, or even a stroke.
Understanding the causes of permanent smell loss can help you determine if there is something you can do to improve your sense of smell.
Traumatic Brain Injury
Individuals suffering from a traumatic brain injury can experience significant physical, cognitive and emotional changes that significantly impact their daily lives. One of the lesser-known impacts of a traumatic brain injury is anosmia, or the complete or partial loss of smell. This can be temporary (persisting from weeks to years) or permanent, but when long-term loss of smell occurs, it is termed hyposmia.
Traumatic brain injuries to the olfactory nerve can cause disruptions in the functioning of neurons and physical damage to olfactory receptor cells which detect odors. Interestingly, an accidental blow to the head has been proven to cause more significant loss of smell than surgery for functional sinonasal diseases that purposely target the area for removal due to chronic pain and other complications. There have also been documented cases where patients were left completely anosmic following minor symptoms such as headaches despite no localized skull fracture being present.
In cases like these, there are three anatomical restoration strategies employed relating to anterior orbital frontal cortex (AOFC) reconstruction:
- Direct repair of primary neurons surrounding cerebral olfactory tracts;
- Nerve autograft reconstruction (where nerves are removed from elsewhere in body); and
- Nerve allograft reconstructions which generally utilize donor tissues at risk of immunorejection if immunosuppression drugs are not used in conjunction with surgery– there is also no guarantee that any treatment will be successful as it’s reliant on where prominent midden pathways have developed over time post-damage.
Other than these treatments restorative therapies remain largely untested and have little scientific evidence surrounding them so remission cannot be accurately predicted nor considered a viable treatment option at this current time without further research into potential better outcomes derived from restoration attempts in this area specifically rather than general disease treatment paths which is what’s available presently for reinstating sense organs much akin to those found within our bodies including natural sense such as taste as mentioned above with regards to anosmia & hyposmia caused directly by accident without any remedy other than opting for potentially dangerous medication or worse yet– invasive procedures which do not guarantee proper restored function so always exercise caution when considering approaches such as these due all variables being accounted for prior offering assistance or endorsement thereof pending medical supervision etc.
Polyps in the Nose
Polyps are benign growths, usually found in the nose. They may cause a permanent loss of smell by blocking the flow of air to your scent receptors. Polyps may form due to chronic sinus infections, allergies, and structural irregularities in the nose such as a deviated septum. Polyp removal or reduction is typically required for treatments and can involve either medication or surgery depending on the severity and complication of your condition.
Symptoms of polyps include:
- Facial pressure
- Sore throat
- Decreased sense of smell, taste or breathing difficulty
If you experience any of these symptoms, seek medical help immediately as early detection will enable you to receive appropriate treatments.
Chronic rhinitis is a condition in which inflammation of the nose and its lining occurs over an extended period of time. It may be caused by allergies, irritants such as chemical fumes or smoke, infection, systemic diseases, hormonal changes or medications.
Chronic rhinitis may impact the sense of smell; however, this is not always the case. Signs and symptoms vary from case to case but may include sneezing fits; postnasal drip; watery, itchy eyes; chronic congestion; runny nose; and loss of smell or a decrease in it.
The cause of the condition should be identified to successfully manage it and restore full olfactory senses if that’s necessary. Treatments exist to control allergy symptoms and reduce inflammation or treat various other conditions that can lead to chronic rhinitis.
There are a variety of treatment options for those who have lost their sense of smell. Depending on the cause of the loss of smell, treatments may include medications, lifestyle changes, and even surgery. This section will discuss the different treatments available to help regain the lost sense of smell:
- Lifestyle changes
Medications are a common option for treating issues related to loss of smell. Possible medications to reduce inflammation or increase production of mucus, antibiotics to treat infections, and steroids may all be prescribed. It is important to remember that treatment options vary greatly depending on a person’s medical needs and allergies.
In addition to medication, surgery is another option for treatment. Surgery may be recommended for correcting structural damage, clearing infections or providing support such as a sinus stent, or other such device that aids in keeping the breathing path open and clear from blockages due to damage or inflammation. This type of intervention is usually used only in cases where medications have failed and when the benefit from the surgery outweighs the risks involved.
When medical interventions are not necessary or able to help, lifestyle changes can also help promote a better sense of smell. These lifestyle changes include:
- Reducing exposure to smoke and irritants in the environment.
- Using humidifiers and steam inhalation techniques to keep nasal passages moist and clear mucus obstructions.
- Maintaining a balanced diet with foods full of nutrients that promote smell recovery (such as seafood).
- Staying active with physical activities such as walking and long-distance running – all steps that can help improve a person’s physical fitness which can potentially impact olfactory function too.
Surgery is often considered the first line of defense when dealing with a lost sense of smell. Depending on the type and complexity of your condition, surgery can be performed to open up the nasal passages, remove obstructions that prevent airflow, or address any underlying structural issues with your nostrils and/or sinuses that could be inhibiting proper olfactory functioning. In more extreme cases, endoscopic or laser treatments may be used to access areas deep within the nose that are not reachable through traditional surgical methods.
It’s important to note that while surgery may be helpful in certain cases, its effects are not always immediate or permanent. In some cases, symptoms may improve shortly after treatment but return several months later as the tissue heals and adjusts. It’s also important to speak with your doctor about potential side effects related to different treatments before undergoing a procedure.
In some cases, alternative treatments may be recommended by healthcare professionals to help a person recover their sense of smell. These treatments include:
- Aromatherapy: The use of essential oils through inhalation can help improve sense of smell in some people. Certain natural substances and oils are also believed to have antiseptic and antifungal properties that can support healing processes in the nose.
- Dietary Changes: Eating foods with anti-inflammatory properties, such as fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes and nuts, can help reduce inflammation of the sinuses and encourage improved sense of smell. Additionally, avoiding sugar, refined carbohydrates and processed foods may also be beneficial for those looking to regain their sense of smell.
- Home Remedies: The use of nasal irrigation with saline solution, steam inhalation and nasal lubricants have all been suggested as home remedies for improving the functioning of the nasal passages. Over-the-counter decongestants may also be used to reduce inflammation in the nose or sinuses that is interfering with smell.
- Herbal Remedies: A variety of herbs may be used as part of an overall treatment plan to regaining your sense of smell. Some herbs to consider include eucalyptus essential oil, ginger root extract and menthol oil which are said to promote healthy functioning in the nose and sinuses. However it’s important to research any herb before using it as an alternative treatment due to potential side effects or interactions with other medications which could make the condition worse if not taken properly or monitored closely by a medical professional.
After a loss of smell, the recovery time varies between individuals and the cause of the smell loss. Depending on the severity of the smell loss, some people can experience a full recovery within a few days or weeks, while others may need to wait months or even years.
It is important to understand the factors that affect recovery time and understand the possible outcomes before attempting to regain your sense of smell:
- Severity of smell loss
- Cause of smell loss
- Overall health
Temporary Loss of Smell
Temporary loss of smell is named anosmia and is most often caused by a common cold or allergies. It is typically accompanied by reduced taste sensitivity and sometimes referred to as a ‘temporary’ condition because it tends to resolve itself within a couple of weeks when the underlying cause (like allergies) clears up. The recovery time varies from person to person and depends on the severity of their symptoms, the health of their immune system, lifestyle choices, and underlying medical conditions.
In some cases, temporary anosmia may last for months or even longer than a year in extreme cases. The best way to navigate through these issues is to:
- Speak with your healthcare provider
- Get tested for underlying triggers that may be causing your condition
- Make necessary lifestyle changes like improved diet and sleep habits
- Avoid exposure to allergens or pollutants that might be exacerbating the problem
- Potentially explore alternative treatments such as herbal remedies or aromatherapy if deemed appropriate
If you have noticed a prolonged temporary loss of smell (that persists despite self-care methods), consult your doctor immediately in order to uncover any underlying health problems that could be causing this symptom. Ultimately only your healthcare provider can accurately assess your situation so they can advise you on how best to proceed further with treatment options that are tailored specifically for you.
Permanent Loss of Smell
In some cases, loss of smell can be permanent, depending on the underlying cause. Trauma from an injury or accident that causes damage to the sense of smell beyond repair can result in permanent loss. Certain forms of illness, such as brain tumors and strokes, can also cause irreparable damage to the sense of smell. Physical conditions like chronic sinus infections or nasal polyps can lead to permanent loss of smell as well.
Damage caused by long-term substance abuse commonly consists of a partial loss or distortion of various aspects within our olfactory capabilities. Common drugs which are known to have a negative effect on the olfactory senses include heavy alcohol use and marijuana. In some cases downing excessively amounts of over-the-counter medications can reduce the sensitivity in our nasal passageways and once these cells have been lost they cannot be replaced or regenerated – leading to a semi-permanent impairment.
Prevention is the best way to ensure that you never lose your sense of smell. By knowing what causes a loss of smell and avoiding certain triggers, you can reduce your risk. Additionally, taking steps to keep your sinuses healthy and strong can help maintain your sense of smell.
Let’s look at some of the strategies for preventing a loss of smell:
The best way to prevent the loss of smell is to avoid respiratory infections. Some steps you can take include:
- Avoiding people who are sick
- Washing your hands regularly with soap and warm water
- Avoiding touching your nose or mouth with unwashed hands
It’s also important to practice good hygiene within your home by dusting, vacuuming, and cleaning frequently to reduce the buildup of dust mites or other allergens that can trigger allergies or asthma.
Be sure to get a flu shot before each flu season begins – this will help protect against the flu virus, which can damage the cells in your nose that are essential for smell detection. It’s also important to protect yourself from environmental pollutants; if possible, avoid chemicals like paint fumes and smoke from fires as these can irritate your nasal passages and lead to a blocked nose. Additionally, stay away from spicy foods as they can cause inflammation in the nasal cavities that could result in a decrease in smell sensitivity.
Avoiding Injury to the Nose
Careful nasal hygiene is essential for avoiding injury to the nose, as well as preventing and reducing the risk of infections. To reduce the risk of nasal damage, follow these tips:
- Wear a face mask over the nose and mouth in dusty or dirty environments.
- Be mindful with air travel, as air pressure changes can cause dryness in the nose which increases risk of infection.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth unless you have clean hands. It’s important to wash your hands often and avoid contact with people who are sick.
- Stay away from tobacco smoke, chemical fumes and pollutants.
- Nasal irrigation may also help clear any mucus buildup in the nose caused by allergies or infections, allowing you to more easily take in smells.
- Last but not least, visit your doctor when necessary! If you experience symptoms such as severe pain that shouldn’t be ignored – often out of fear that it may mean something serious – don’t wait too long before seeking medical help. When detected early enough, some sinus conditions can be treated quickly before they result in any permanent damage.