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What Is Hyposmia?

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on May 03, 2022

Hyposmia is a decreased ability to smell or detect odors through your nose. Those affected can experience impairments in odor detection and the inability to identify odors. When the sense of smell decreases, the ability to taste food may also change, as the two senses function closely together.

Losing the sense of smell may and may not be a symptom of a serious condition. Interest in eating can be negatively affected by the loss of smell, which may lead to excessive weight loss and sometimes depression.

Being one of our most basic senses, smell plays a huge role in our lives. Some of its uses include discovering and enjoying new sensations, aiding recollection of past experiences, and detecting potentially hazardous odors such as leaking gas or spoiled food.

Causes of Hyposmia

Some people are born with this disorder, but the most common cause of hyposmia is nasal blockage

Other causes include:

  • Allergies
  • Infections such as flu or cold.
  • Chronic sinus problems
  • A head injury
  • Nasal polyps (small growths in the nose) 
  • A deviated nasal septum
  • Smoking
  • Dental problems
  • Hormonal imbalance
  • Exposure to some chemicals
  • Recreational drugs, such as cocaine
  • Radiation treatment for head and neck cancer

The following medications can also cause loss of smell:

  • Antibiotics such as ampicillin and tetracycline
  • Some antidepressants such as amitriptyline
  • Antihistamines such as fluticasone and prednisone

Symptoms of Hyposmia

Symptoms of hyposmia can manifest gradually or suddenly. They range from a reduced ability to smell to the complete inability to smell anything. You may also experience a loss of taste, including an inability to tell whether something is sweet, sour, bitter, or salty. Normally pleasant smells or tastes may become unpleasant.

Diagnosis of Hyposmia

Your doctor will examine the inner side of your nose using special equipment to check if a polyp or some other growth is interfering with your ability to smell or if there's a present infection. This inspection will likely be performed by an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist or otolaryngologist.

In addition to a physical exam, other diagnostic tests include:

  • Comparing smells of different chemicals
  • Scratch and sniff test
  • Sip, spit, and rinse test (chemicals are applied to some areas of your tongue, measuring the lowest chemical strength that you can recognize)

Treatment of Hyposmia

Treatment of hyposmia may vary depending on the following:

  • Age
  • Medical history
  • The severity of the condition
  • Your ability to handle specific medicines, therapies, or procedures
  • How long the condition will last
  • Your opinion or preference

After a formal diagnosis and identification of the cause, your ENT specialist may treat nasal inflammation using oral medications to reduce inflammation, recommending antibiotics, or performing surgery inside the nose.

If a polyp is present, surgery may be considered to remove the blockage and return your sense of smell.

Other treatments for both temporary and permanent loss of smell may include:

  • Counseling 
  • Quitting smoking
  • Correcting the underlying medical condition
  • Change of medications contributing to the disorder
  • Surgical removal of obstructions causing the disorder

Complications of Loss of Smell

The sense of smell is one of the most basic human senses. Losing the sense of smell can be dangerous and can negatively affect your quality of life.  Loss of smell can damage your ability to detect dangers such as:

  • Leaking gas
  • Fire or smoke
  • Spoiled food and beverages
  • Poisonous fumes and chemicals

Conditions Related to Hyposmia

Hyposmia can also be a result of the following medical conditions:

Other conditions that may lead to hyposmia include

  • Type 1 diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Obesity
  • Malnutrition

Managing Smell Disorder

If your sense of smell is affected by allergies or infections, you can clean your nose using a saltwater solution.

Depending on the cause, smell-retaining therapy and specific supplements can also help during the recovery process.

Permanent loss of smell can be worked around by maintaining a safe environment free from gas emissions and including a functioning chemical (gas and carbon monoxide) detector at home.

Hyposmia caused by a head injury or a major inflammatory injury to the olfactory system may cause such a permanent impairment.

Conclusion

When visiting an ENT specialist, ensure that you get the following information from the specialist. This will not only help you understand the condition better but will also help you through the healing process. Important information includes:

The name of the condition, causes, treatments provided, or tests undertaken.

You may also wish to ask:

  • Why the type of treatment is prescribed, how it will help you, and what the possible side effects are
  • Why certain tests or procedures are recommended and what the results could indicate
  • What medications you can take to try and improve or recover your sense of smell
  • Possible conditions related to or causing your hyposmia
  • What to avoid when treating hyposmia

Hyposmia caused by seasonal allergy or a cold can improve even without medication. Even so, some medications and therapies to retain your sense of smell may help, depending on the severity of the condition.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

American Academy of Family Physicians: “Smell and Taste Disorders: A Primary Care Approach.”

Ear, Nose and Throat Center of Utah: “Loss of Smell (Anosmia/Hyposmia).”

Frontiers in Urology: “Traumatic brain injury and olfaction: a systematic review.”

National Health Services: “Lost or changed sense of smell.”

National Institutes of Health: “Smell Disorders.”

The Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Smell and Taste Disorders”

The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston: “Hyposmia and Anosmia.”

World Journal of Otorhinolaryngol Head and Neck Surgery: “Influence of medications on taste and smell.”

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