Anosmia: What Causes Loss of Smell?

What Is Anosmia?

loss of smell

Anosmia is the medical terminology for the loss of smell. This loss of smell may be partial, with a severely decreased ability to smell, or it can be full, with a complete inability to smell at all. It can be caused by a blockage of the nasal passages or by underlying conditions. The condition can occur for only a short time or be permanent, depending on the cause. Partial anosmia is more common than full, permanent anosmia.


  • The common cold
  • Sinus infections
  • The flu
  • Allergies
  • Nasal polyps
  • Nasal tumors
  • Nasal deformities
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Brain aneurysm
  • Brain surgery
  • Cancer
  • Chemotherapy
  • Diabetes
  • Chemical exposure
  • Huntington’s disease
  • Kallmann’s disease
  • Klinefelter’s syndrome
  • Korsakoff’s psychosis
  • Malnutrition
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Multiple system atrophy
  • Paget’s disease
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Obesity
  • Pick’s disease
  • Radiation therapy
  • Rhinoplasty
  • Schizophrenia
  • Sjorgren’s syndrome
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Zinc deficiency




Anosmia refers to any loss of smell, either temporary or permanent, that occurs at any point in someone’s life.

Congenital Anosmia

Congenital anosmia refers to the inability to smell from the time of birth.


  • Complete inability to smell
  • Severely decreased inability to smell


If your primary care physician finds that you are suffering from anosmia based on your reported symptoms, they will likely refer you to an otolaryngologist. An otolaryngologist specializes in disorders affecting the nose and sense of smell. They can run diagnostic diagnostic tests to assess how well you can or cannot smell. This may include asking you to identify certain scents. If you cannot recognize any odors, it is likely you have anosmia.


Treating anosmia depends on the cause. Loss of smell that is caused by the common cold or the flu will usually resolve on its own when the illness has run its course. Anosmia that is caused by a blockage like a polyp or tumor can be resolve when the blockage is removed. Anosmia that is the result of neurological conditions like Alzheimer’s or a traumatic brain injury is usually permanent and cannot be treated.

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