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Impaired smell occurs when a person is unable to smell things correctly. It can mean that the person is unable to smell at all, or cannot smell properly. It can happen gradually or suddenly and can be permanent or temporary.  It can be a sign of many serious problems and have various underlying causes. Depending on the severity and cause, impaired smell can be treated successfully.

Impaired Smell

Risk Factors of Impaired Smell

There are certain factors that can make it more likely for a person to have impaired smell. These risk factors may be health-related or behavior-related. Some can be avoided to prevent the occurrence of this disorder. Some risk factors include: 

  • Drug use
  • Allergies
  • Nose surgery
  • Sinus problems
  • Medications

Causes of Impaired Smell

There are many things that can cause impaired smell. Some of them are health problems themselves, and others are everyday things that can be avoided. Sometimes, there is no reason or cause, or the cause is unknown. Finding the cause is important because it can help doctors come up with the right treatment.   Some common causes include: 

  • Nasal allergies
  • Influenza
  • Colds
  • Hay fever
  • Dementia (memory loss) such as Alzheimer’s 
  • Neurological disorders like Parkinson’s disease or Huntington’s disease
  • Tumors in the brain
  • Malnutrition
  • Nasal tumors or surgeries
  • Head injuries
  • Sinusitis (sinus infection)
  • Radiation therapy
  • Viral upper respiratory infection
  • Hormonal disturbances
  • Use of nasal decongestants

Cause of Impaired Smell

Symptoms of Impaired Smell

The symptoms of impaired smell are usually obvious. Some people experience them suddenly. Some have a hard time recognizing that they are losing their sense of smell because it happens gradually.  The symptoms can range from a reduced smelling ability or a complete loss of smell. Some people are only unable to smell certain things. The symptoms can tell doctors a lot about the underlying causes of the issue too. 

Diagnosis of Impaired Smell

Doctors can diagnose impaired smell based on the symptoms and severity of the condition. Doctors will review the patient’s medical history and ask them a series of questions to get a better understanding of their condition and causes. They may also use various diagnostic tests to find the cause of the problem. Some common tests include: 

  • CT scan
  • MRI scan
  • X-ray
  • Nasal endoscopy 

Diagnosis of Impaired Smell

Treatment of Impaired Smell

Impaired smell can be treated, but the type of treatment used and their success depends on the underlying causes of the problem.  Some types of impaired smell may require surgery. The most common treatment options include: 

  • Antibiotics
  • Nose sprays
  • Decongestants
  • Antihistamines
  • Humidifier

Prognosis of Impaired Smell

Most people will experience some level of impaired smell during their lives. It is usually only minor and temporary. People who experience this condition often or experience a complete loss of smell may require surgery or ongoing treatment. People may avoid the issue by washing their hands, avoiding drugs, and getting a flu shot. 

Complications of Impaired Smell

Since impaired smell is usually the symptoms of a disease or health problem, there are often complications associated with the underlying cause. Some complications may also be associated with treatments. Some common complications include: 


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