Being able to smell plays a large role in your quality of life, from enjoying the scent of a flower to picking up the aroma from your favorite meal. But about one to two percent of Americans report a problem with their sense of smell; this number increases as you age.
Understanding what causes your smell disorder can be the key to seeking treatment.
How Your Sense of Smell Works
Your sense of smell is part of your chemosensory system. Inside your nose is a collection of specialized cells called olfactory sensory neurons, which connect directly to your brain. Each neuron has one odor receptor.
There are smells all around us, made up of microscopic molecules released by brewing coffee and flowering plants. These molecules travel up the nose and stimulate an odor receptor. When a molecule is detected, the neuron is activated, and a message is sent to your brain to be interpreted as smell.
Since there are far more smells in the environment than there are receptors in your nose, a molecule can stimulate a combination of receptors to create a unique representation in the brain.
Smells can reach your odor receptors through the pathway in your nostrils or through the roof of your throat, which connects to the nose. Aromas are released as you chew your food and reach the olfactory sensory neurons, which demonstrates how closely related your sense of taste and smell are.
Common Smell Disorders
Smell disorders can decrease your ability to smell or change the way you perceive odors. Common disorders include:
- Hyposmia reduces your ability to detect odors
- Anosmia is an inability to detect odors
- Parosmia changes your perception of odors
- Phantosmia is the sensation of an odor that isn’t there
Smell Disorder Causes
Injury and illness are the two most common causes of a smell disorder. Others include:
- Sinus infections
- Nasal growths
- Hormone disturbance
- Dental problems
- Exposure to chemicals
- Radiation treatment
- Parkinson’s disease
- Alzheimer’s disease
Diagnosing and Treating Smell Disorders
After a review of your medical history and a physical exam, your doctor will test your ability to smell. This can be done through two methods. One type of test is designed to measure the smallest amount of odor you can detect. The other requires you to identify as many smells as you can from a booklet full of scratch and sniff dots.
Identifying the cause of your smell disorder is crucial, as your doctor needs this information in order to craft a treatment plan. Nasal growths and obstructions can be removed through surgery and medication doses can be altered. Some are lucky and their loss of smell recovers spontaneously with no obvious reason, while others not be able to be treated.
To learn more about smell disorders or to schedule an appointment with an ear, nose and throat expert, contact Texas ENT & Allergy today.