Breakfast on the griddle, jasmine in the garden, your lover’s favorite perfume – No doubt each of these conjure a particularly pleasing emotion. After all, our sense of smell, more than any of the other senses, is psychologically linked with memory and can have a profound effect on the ways in which we connect with the world around us.
Common Reasons for Olfactory Loss
So, imagine for a moment, that you’ve lost your sense of smell. Scary, isn’t it? Unfortunately, it’s an all-too-common occurrence. Among the top direct or indirect contributing factors to a partial or full loss of the ability to smell are:
- Nasal obstruction
- Degenerative nerve disease
- Exposure to hazardous chemicals, such as pesticides or solvents
- Head and neck cancers and related radiation treatments
- Chronic respiratory infections
- Oral disease
- Radiation therapy
- Dementia, Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s
- Traumatic head injuries
- Hormonal disturbances
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Cigarette smoking
- Certain medications or drug abuse
- Advanced age
Dangers of Olfactory Loss
Any of these conditions can negatively affect the functionality of not only our olfactory nerve cells (those responsible for your sense of smell) but also your gustatory nerve cells (those responsible for taste). That loss of functionality can affect not only your quality of life, but your safety, and perhaps your very life, as well. For example, the smell of certain gasses, smoke, or spoiled foods can alert us to danger, allowing us to act before it’s too late. And, research on the psychology of smell shows that body odor, produced by the genes which make up our immune system, can help us subconsciously choose our life partners.
While most people would report a loss of sight or hearing as a top worry, it’s clear that the loss of smell is a far underestimated misfortune. Fortunately, however, help is available.
If you suspect you’re beginning to lose your sense of smell, a highly-trained otolaryngologist can perform a thorough examination of your head and neck to pinpoint signs of infections, inflammation, or physical obstruction that may be affecting your sense of smell or taste. Treatment options may include prescription or over-the-counter medications, including decongestants or antibiotics, or surgery to remove nasal polyps or other obstructions.