What is anosmia? The actual symptoms of this little-known phenomenon can vary wildly from person to person. There’s been a recent surge in searches for this term because of its link to covid-19. However, what else can cause anosmia?
First of all, what is anosmia?
Anosmia is the medical term for a change in your sense of smell or taste. This can range from a total and sudden loss of smell to detecting unpleasant scents where there normally are none and even smelling things that aren’t there.
Because our sense of smell is intricately linked to our ability to taste, suffering from anosmia can take the pleasure out of eating and even send some sufferers into a deep, listless depression.
So, what can cause this bizarre phenomenon?
A change to the mucus membrane
Any of these conditions have been linked to changes to the mucus membrane in your nose:
Blockage of the nasal passages
Blockages can sometimes be the result of tumours or bone deformities. Nevertheless, it can have a serious impact on one’s sense of smell.
Brain or nerve damage
If the receptors in the nose are compromised, nerves to the brain will become damaged. Factors that compromise these receptors include:
What is congenital anosmia?
This is when people are born without a sense of smell. It can be because of a random abnormality or a genetic condition. Kallmann syndrome is a genetic condition that distorts the sense of smell by affecting the production of sexual development hormones. It is caused by a deficiency of gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH).
If multiple people in a family have congenital anosmia, it can potentially be genetic. There’s a lack of research on this topic. In saying that, a study on rare diseases found some people affected by congenital anosmia experienced mutations in the PROKR2 gene. These genes are linked to Kallmann syndrome.
Sadly, there is no cure for congenital anosmia.
Are there any solutions for non-congenital anosmia?
The best advice is to visit an ENT specialist with expertise in nose and sinus issues. Typically, anti-depressants, otrivine nasal spray, antibiotics and nasal steroids are prescribed to anosmia sufferers.
For those seeking alternative measures, acupuncture, zinc capsules and smell training are recommended.
For all you wine lovers out there, and to all my fellow spice lovers, smelling your favourite vices are a form of smell training. Make sure to smell them for a couple of minutes each day. These claims have been backed up by Dr Thomas Hummel, of the University of Dresden.
What does it feel like to have anosmia?
From personally having anosmia for a month in February, I can attest it’s not a particularly nice feeling. I love food and being unable to smell my coffee in the morning or my cooking was heart-breaking.
Perhaps not smelling my cooking wasn’t always a bad thing but food is such a sensory experience, losing a sense affects your enjoyment of it. Of all the problems you can have in life, however, it’s a minor one. I learned to appreciate my sense of smell a lot more after losing it briefly.
The team behind the Covid Symptom Study app state it takes roughly “two weeks to regain sense of smell” and only “three per cent” have anosmia for more than 90 days.
However, with 10% rumoured to experience anosmia for months or even years, many are worried about the longer-term impact this could have on their health.
Lucy Farrington- Smith, who has had anosmia for more than two years, says while it can be an “isolating” and dangerous experience – since she could not smell a gas leak, for instance – she’s learning to appreciate her other senses more. She finds solace in others who also have anosmia.
If anyone reads this article and suspects they have anosmia, seek help. There are solutions available and a problem shared is a problem halved.