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Lost smell and taste

You've lost your sense of smell and taste - what's that all about?

The loss of smell - anosmia - is suprisingly common. Around one in 20 adults is thought to have little or no sense of smell. Most people know what it's like to have a blocked nose because of a cold, but when your nose is clear and you still can't smell anything, what's going on?

Inside the nose

If your nostrils are clear then it's likely the olfactory epithelium has been damaged in some way. Situated at the top of the nose behind the eyes, this tissue is packed full of the receptors that pick up molecules of odour and signal to the brain that there's a smell out there. The olfactory epithelium can be damaged by a virus, allergies, polyps, or an injury to the head amongst other things. More about the causes of smell loss here.

When it gets damaged, it won't work properly. And just like everywhere else on your body that gets injured, this is going to take time to heal.

A matter of taste

Much of what we know as flavour is smell, so when we can't smell, we can't taste properly either. You may still be able to detect true taste on your tongue - sweet, salt, bitter, sour, umami - but the aromas that go up your nostrils as you put something in your mouth, and up your nose through the back of your mouth as you chew, will be missing.

Treatment for loss of smell

In many cases there is no medical intervention or treatment that will cure your sense of smell. Remember, this is an injury that has to heal.

Doctors recommend smell training and nasal rinsing to support the healing process. NoseWell has all the information you need to manage your recovery.

When to see a doctor

Many people recover their sense of smell after two or three weeks.

There are lots of different causes for a sudden loss of smell, so it is worth speaking to your doctor if this persists for more than two weeks. Current guidelines from the British Rhinological Society suggest that a referral to an Ear Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist should be considered for patients after three months, unless the possible cause of the problem is a virus, like Covid-19. Keeping a note of your symptoms and any changes is really helpful in explaining your case. An ENT specialist may request an MRI scan and do other checks but these don't necessarily show the cause of the damage, and in many cases no treatment will be recommended. Don't feel your doctor is brushing you off, there is simply no medical treatment that is going to help.

Help yourself
  • Start smell training as soon as you can.
  • Becoming the expert of your own condition is the best way to help yourself, particularly choosing what to eat to stay healthy.
  • Look after your nose - nasal rinses are recommended.
  • Look after your wellbeing - losing your smell can make you vulnerable to low mood and depression.

Remember, most people recover their sense of smell, even if it sometimes takes many months to get it back. You're not on your own, you've found a place here where thousands of people have been where you are now.

Stay calm, stay curious. It won't always be like this!