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Anosmia is the lack of olfaction, or a loss of the sense of smell. It can be either temporary or permanent. A related term, hyposmia refers to a decrease in the ability to smell. Some people may be anosmic for one particular odor. This is called "specific anosmia" and may be genetically based. Anosmia can be diagnosed by doctors by using scratch-n-sniff odor tests or by using commonly available odors such as coffee, lemon, and cinnamon.

It should be emphasized that there are no more than 5 distinctive tastes: salty, sour, sweet, bitter, and umami. The 10,000 different scents which humans usually recognize as 'tastes' are often lost or severely diminished with the loss of olfaction.

While termed as a disability, anosmia is often viewed in the medical field as a trivial problem. This is not always the case - esthesioneuroblastoma is a cancerous tumor originating in or near the olfactory nerve. This is a serious condition - if you suspect that you have lost your sense of smell, see an Otolaryngologist (Ear, Nose and Throat doctor) immediately.

Anosmia can have a number of detrimental effects [1]. Patients with anosmia may find food less appetizing. Loss of smell can also be dangerous because it hinders the detection of gas leaks, fire, body odor, and spoiled food. The common view of anosmia as trivial can make it more difficult for a patient to receive the same types of medical aid as someone who is blind, deaf, or mute.

Losing an established and sentimental smell memory (e.g. the smell of grass, of a grandparent's attic, of a particular book, of loved ones, or of oneself) has been known to cause feelings of depression.

Loss of olfaction may lead to the loss of libido, even to the point of impotency, which often preoccupies younger anosmic men.

Scientists involved in anosmia research include Richard Doty.


A temporary loss of smell can be caused by a stuffy nose or infection. In contrast, a permanent loss of smell may be caused by death of olfactory receptor neurons in the nose, or by brain injury in which there is damage to the olfactory nerve or damage to brain areas that process smell (see olfactory system). The lack of the sense of smell at birth, usually due to genetic factors, is referred as congenital anosmia. Anosmia may be an early sign of degenerative brain diseases such as Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease. Another specific cause of permanent loss could be from damage to olfactory receptor neurons due to use of nasal sprays. To avoid loss of smell from nasal spays, use them for only a short amout of time. Nasal sprays that are used to treat allergy related congestion are the only nasal sprays that are safe to use for extended periods of time. [2]. Esthesioneuroblastomais an exeedingly rare cancerous tumor that originates in or near the olfactory nerve.

Associated conditions

See also


  1. Doty RL, Mishra A (2001). Influences of nasal obstruction, rhinitis, and rhinosinusitis on the ability to smell. Laryngoscope 111: 409–23.
  2. Doty RL, Yousem DM, Pham LT, Kreshak AA, Lee WW (1997). Olfactory dysfunction in patients with head trauma. Arch Neurol 54: 1131–1140.
  3. Doty RL, Deems D, Stellar S (1988). Olfactory dysfunction in Parkinson's disease: A general deficit unrelated to neurologic signs, disease stage, or disease duration. Neurology 38: 1237–44.
  4. Murphy C (1999). Loss of olfactory function in dementing disease. Physiology & Behavior 66: 177–182.
  5. Schwartz B, Doty RL, Frye RE, Monroe C, Barker S (1989). Olfactory function in chemical workers exposed to acrylate and methacrylate vapors. Am J Pub Health 79: 613–618.
  6. Rose CS, Heywood PG, Costanzo RM (1992). Olfactory impairment after chronic occupational cadmium exposure. Journal of Occupational Medicine 34: 600–605.
  7. Rydzewski B, Sulkowski W, Miarzynaska M (1998). Olfactory disorders induced by cadmium exposure: A clinical study. Int J Occ Med Env Health 11: 235–245.
  8. Doty RL, Shaman P, Applebaum SL, Giberson R, Sikorsky L, Rosenberg L (1984). Smell identification ability: Changes with age. Science 226: 1441–1443.

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