Changes in your sense of smell are rarely life-threatening, but they can have a significant impact on your quality of life. Your senses of smell and taste are closely linked, and many people who lose their sense of smell find that food loses much of its taste as well. You can recognise ‘basic’ tastes – bitter, sweet, salty and sour – without needing smell, but more complex flavours need both senses to appreciate them fully.
One of the most common reasons for a distorted sense of smell is sinus infection. This can be acute (acute sinusitis is more commonly associated with pain over the front of your face, a blocked or runny nose, fever and/or an unpleasant tasting drip down the back of your nose into your throat) or chronic (lasting for more than 12 weeks, pain is often less prominent but runny nose and reduced sense of smell are more common). Mouth infections or problems with your teeth can also cause an unpleasant sense of smell. Much less common is partial damage to the nerve involved in smell – the olfactory nerve.
Because smell and taste are closely linked, other problems which affect your mouth can also result in a change in your sense of smell, reflux from your oesophagus (gullet) can cause a nasty taste in the back of your throat which can affect your sense of smell. If your symptoms are severe or persistent, see your GP. They may consider tests and possibly referral to an ENT (Ear, Nose and Throat) specialist who can examine the inside of your nose with an endoscope (a small flexible telescope).
Dr. Sarah Jarvis
Please consult a doctor or other health care professional if you have health concerns or for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions.