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Brain & Nervous System Health Center

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People Often Cope Well With Loss of Sense of Smell

People Who Can’t Smell Place Less Importance on It, Study Finds
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

April 18, 2011 -- Most people who have lost their sense of smell cope with the loss surprisingly well, according to a new study.

Researchers found that most people who have lost their sense of smell attach less importance to smells and odors.

“This finding strongly suggests that patients, although they might not be aware, seem to adjust to their olfactory constraints,” researcher Ilona Croy, MD, of the University of Dresden Medical School in Dresden, Germany, and colleagues write in the Archives of Otolaryngology - Head & Neck Surgery. “Their sense of smell seems to be of less importance to them in daily life when it is reduced.”

Researchers say disorders affecting the sense of smell are common and affect up to 18% of the general population.

Some common causes of loss or reduced sense of smell are viral infections, head trauma, diseases of the sinus, and some neurological diseases. Many olfactory-related disorders are also associated with aging.

People with an impaired sense of smell often complain about difficulties cooking, lack of appetite, and low interest in eating. They are also more at risk of hazardous events, such as fire, because of the inability to detect odors.

Coping With Loss of Sense of Smell

Despite these problems, researchers say few people seek medical attention for lost sense of smell. The researchers say that may be because the impairment is gradual and people do not notice it or because they find ways to cope and adjust.

To see how people cope with a lost sense of smell, researchers surveyed 235 people with a reduced or complete loss of the sense of smell and 235 people with no smell loss. The participants also underwent olfactory testing to see how well they could identify odors.

The results showed that people with olfactory disorders rated the importance attached to their sense of smell to be lower in general than people without the disorders.

However, about 13% of participants with a reduced sense of smell had high aggravation scores on the survey. These participants were found to have significantly higher depression scores as well.

People with reduced sense of smell reported fewer emotions and memories associated with smells because they experience fewer olfactory triggers. In addition, they say they use their sense of smell less and rely on it less in making decisions.

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