Hear this word spoken

Approximately two to five million American adults suffer from disorders of taste and smell. Anosmia is to smell, as blindness is to sight, or deafness is to hearing. Anosmics cannot detect scents of any kind. Over 200 medical conditions and many medications have been associated with olfactory changes and loss.

"As a child without a sense of smell, it requires a considerable amount of thought to determine that something is missing. Blind children are told they can't see, but anosmic children have to find a way to work it out for themselves."

Are smell and taste disorders serious?

  • A person without a sense of smell is deprived of an early warning system. Smell and taste alert people to fires, poisonous fumes, leaking gas, and spoiled food.

  • Smell and taste losses can lead to depression.

  • Abnormalities in smell and taste functions frequently accompany and even signal the existence of several diseases or unhealthy conditions, including obesity, diabetes, hypertension, malnutrition, and some degenerative diseases of the nervous system such as Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, and Korsakoff's psychosis.

Smell seems to be the sense people take most for granted. There are no galleries displaying smells like paintings, no concertos written for noses, no special menus of smells created for grand occasions; yet this is the most direct and basic of the senses.

From "Minutes from ME" at

The Importance of Olfaction:

  • It serves as an important early warning system for the detection of fire, dangerous fumes, leaking gas, and spoiled food.

  • It largely determines the flavor of the foods we eat and the beverages we drink.

  • It enhances socialization and interpersonal relationships by protecting against objectionable body odors.

  • Loss of smell may be a symptom of sinus disease, growths in the nasal passage, or a nervous system disorder.

  • Some professions require a keen sense of smell, for example, a chef or a firefighter. Therefore, disorders of smell in these fields can lead to job loss and serious economic hardship.

A number of different diseases, conditions, and medications can lead to olfactory disturbances. Major causes of olfactory dysfunction:

  • Obstructive Nasal and Sinus Disease.

  • Upper Respiratory Viral Infection.

  • Head Trauma.

  • In 22% of cases no cause is ever found (idiopathic).

    Congenital Anosmia:

    • Someone is born without a sense of smell

    • Commonly an isolated finding.

    • These patients often do not understand the concept of an odor.

    • Can be associated with other abnormalities such as cryptorchidism, midline craniofacial defects, deafness, and renal agenesis.

    • Important to rule out other causes of anosmia which may have occurred in infancy and childhood.

  • For patients who are untreatable, counseling is important. These patients need to understand that their disorder is not unique. Support groups are helpful.

    Patients with olfactory disorders need to take special precautions:

    • Install multiple smoke alarms in the home. Smoke detectors are a necessity in all areas of the home, especially in the kitchen and near fireplaces. An extra safety is having fire extinguishers in case of a small fire.

    • Change from natural gas appliances to electric. Gas leaks are recognizable by smell and could not be detected by someone with this disorder.

    • The sense of smell is also very important in detecting spoiled food. Clearly mark expiration dates on food. Leftovers need to be marked with throwaway dates and special attention needs to be given for freshness dates to be sure the food is good and safe to eat.

    • Household cleaners can be a risk factor because the odor of the chemicals will not be noticed to warn the person that the chemicals are toxic and should be used in a well- ventilated area.

    • Warning labels should be read as a reminder of the chemicals involved in such things as hair products, bathroom and kitchen cleaners, insecticides, etc.

    • Our sense of smell keeps people aware of automotive troubles. Regular checkups should occur to prevent problems.

    • Enlist the help of friends and family in issues of social concern.

    (Much of the above info is taken from: and and

    Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas and no one can detect it without a CO detector! These are available commercially for a very reasonable cost and should be considered in high risk areas with little ventilation (e.g., basements, closed garages). I also strongly encourage everyone to install and maintain smoke detectors and, if appropriate, natural gas detectors. For additional info. see:

    - Nancy E. Rawson, Ph.D., Associate Member, Monell Chemical Senses Center, Philadelphia, and Scientific Advisor to the Anosmia Foundation

    How many people suffer from anosmia? Please click here for more information.

    Note on treatments:

    "The Monell Chemical Senses Center is beginning a clinical trial with a specific type of retinoic acid treatment for people that have lost their sense of smell due to a particular surgical procedure (transorbital craniotomy). Animal studies suggest this treatment may improve regrowth of the olfactory nerves in this type of trauma (Yee and Rawson, 2000). This is the first clinical trial of any kind that I am aware of for treating anosmia!" -Nancy E. Rawson, Ph.D. Associate Member Monell Chemical Senses Center

    Read a report on Olfactory Disorders written by resident physicians at the UTMB Department of Otolaryngology/Head and Neck Surgery

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