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Researchers explore smell loss and its causes. Find out about the correlation between a high fat diet and a reduced sense of smell.

It is well known that people with obesity face a number of dangerous health risks, including diabetes and high blood pressure.  However, there is new research which suggests obesity could lead to a decreased sense of smell.  Researchers from Florida State University found that obese mice that were fed a high fat diet experienced a significant reduction in their sense of smell.

What is a smell disorder?

An impaired sense of smell or anosmia is the inability to smell things properly.  Smell impairment can describe a complete inability to smell or a partial inability to smell.  

The loss of smell can be indicative of many medical complications and it can be temporary or permanent. 

Anosmia can be due to problems in the nose, brain or central nervous system. 

What are the symptoms of smell loss?

With the loss of smell, there can also be a loss of taste.  Other symptoms of smell loss can include distortion of food smells and the inability to determine flavors. If you experience any of these symptoms, it could be due to anosmia or another medical condition which requires treatment.

What conditions could lead someone to an impaired sense of smell?

The temporary loss of smell is usually due to allergies, bacterial or viral infections. However, there are other things which can also lead to a decreased sense of smell and these conditions include the following:

  • Overuse of nasal decongestants
  • Dementia
  • Neurological disorders
  • Hormonal disturbances
  • Tumors in the brain
  • Viral upper respiratory infections
  • Nasal tumors or surgeries
  • Head injuries
  • Malnutrition
  • Sinusitis (sinus infection)
  • Radiation therapy

Certain prescription drugs, such as hypertensive medications, can also cause an alteration of a person’s sense of taste or smell.

How is a loss of smell diagnosed?

If a person has an impaired sense of smell, it is important to consult with a physician before trying to treat the condition with over-the-counter medications.  When talking to a physician, a person should tell the doctor about the symptoms being experienced and when the issue began to happen.  It is also important to tell the doctor about any other symptoms which may be going on.

A doctor will perform a physical examination of a person’s nose and may perform the following tests to determine if there are any blockages in the nasal passages:

  • X-ray
  • CT (computed tomography scan)
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging scan)
  • Nasal endoscopy (examination of the nasal passages with a thin tube which has a camera attached)

These tests will allow a physician to take a closer look at the structures within the nose to determine if there are any abnormalities.  In some situations, it could be necessary for the doctor to take a sample of cells within the nose to make a diagnosis.

What are the treatment options available for an impaired sense of smell?

Anosmia is a condition which requires treatment from an otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat specialist).  The loss of smell is a very diverse disorder and it could be the result of many problems.  If nasal congestion or allergies are the cause of smell loss, treatment is usually not necessary because the condition will correct itself.  If smell loss is the result of nasal polyps or growths, a doctor may recommend removing the obstruction to help a person regain their sense of smell.

A person may spontaneously regain their sense of smell.  However, sometimes anosmia is not treatable, particularly if age is the problem.

There are steps a person can take to make living with smell loss more pleasant and safer.  If a person seeks treatment from a specialist, the doctor will recommend the best course of action.  The testing a doctor order's will depend on the kind of symptoms a person is having and whether or not the root causes can be discovered only through physical examination.  Generally, it can take about 3-5 days to get test results back, but each physician and lab is different so this is only a rough estimation.

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