Decreased sense of smell/taste


The nerve endings for the sense of smell are located in the upper part of the nose. Having an intact sense of smell is necessary for normal taste sensation. Certain nasal conditions can affect the sense of smell by causing blockage of airflow or inflammation of the nasal tissues. An example of this would be nasal polyps. Nasal tumors can be benign or cancerous, and although rare, they can cause alterations in the sense of smell, therefore screening and diagnosis is important.


A thorough review of possible causes of decreased sense of smell/taste is essential. Some common reasons for this problem are viral infections and trauma to the head or face. Over the counter nasal sprays containing zinc have been associated with sudden loss of the sense of smell. A careful examination of the patients nose will be performed to look for blockage in the nose due to inflammation or a mass. Often the sense of smell can be tested using a ‘scratch and sniff’ test that quantifies the degree of loss. It is common to undergo an imaging study to evaluate the upper nasal passages and base of the brain where the nerves for the sense of smell are located.


If an obvious cause can be found for nasal blockage, such as nasal polyps or chronic sinusitis, often medical or surgical therapies can be recommended that will help return the patient’s sense of smell. When trauma or viral infections are the cause, improvement can take time and the degree of improvement can be variable.


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