Smell and Taste Disorders - Living with a smell or taste disorder

Will my sense of smell come back?

Temporary loss of smell may occur when people smoke, or have a seasonal allergy. Following a cold some people return quickly to normal function whilst others have longer-term or even permanent changes to their smell. Nasal and sinus conditions can affect smell to a varying degree and there may be a good response to treatment, which can be with medicines and if needed, surgery.

Head trauma can result in injuries to the nose, the smell nerves or the brain where the signal is received. The smell system can sometimes repair itself and restore some of the smell sense. As to when this happens is variable depending on the site and severity of the injury but there are studies to show that some degree of recovery can occur up to 10 years after the trauma in 50% of those affected. Smells which seem different to what you were expecting (parosmia) and smells which you think are there but which aren't (phantosmia) may also occur. They tend to happen early after the trauma, before gradually disappearing.

Age results in a reduction in the number of smell receptors, which can reduce the sense of smell, and there is less ability to repair damaged smell receptors.

What problems might I have if I have a smell or taste disorder?

Losing enjoyment of food and drink is a common complaint for people who lose their sense of smell. You can taste sweet, salty, bitter, sour and umami with your tongue. More complex flavours - like grapefruit or barbecued steak - also depend on smell.

It is difficult to identify faulty gas appliances, which are mainly identified by the sense of smell. Ensure gas appliances are switched off when not in use and are serviced every year. If you can, change from a gas appliance to an electric one to reduce the risk of an accident. You could also get a natural gas detector fitted in your home.

There is also a risk of missing house fires. You should ensure that the fire alarms in your house are working properly; the fire department recommends checking them every week.

You may have little or no ability to tell if food is still safe to eat (food poisoning may affect you more commonly). You may depend on other people to smell foodstuffs for you. You should never eat foodstuff beyond its use by/best before date. You can label refrigerated food cartons with the date they were opened. Food discolouration will also indicate whether food is not safe, so carefully check the food before you eat. You will be unable to smell your own personal body odours. To reduce self-consciousness, maintenance of good personal hygiene is important.

If your sense of smell is necessary for your occupation you should discuss this with your employer or supervisor. With your permission, they can contact a support group, like Fifth Sense, for further help and advice.

When your sense of smell and sense of taste are altered you may not appreciate complex flavours in food. This loss of taste can reduce your appetite. Try to maintain your nutrition levels by weighing yourself regularly, or setting reminders for mealtimes. Cooking with ingredients that stimulate the taste buds (sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami) that are more colourful or textured may restore some of the interest in food.

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Author:
Dr Hayley Willacy
Peer Reviewer:
Dr Carl Philpott
Document ID:
28809 (v2)
Last Checked:
01 June 2017
Next Review:
01 June 2020

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Patient Platform Limited has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.