Loss of Sense of Smell Related to Colds, Allergies, Sinus Issues, and COVID-19 Infection

With over 80 million total cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. alone, you’ll likely know someone who has experienced the symptoms: fever, muscle aches, headaches, cough, and most tellingly, a loss of sense of taste and smell.

Known as anosmia, loss of sense of smell  isn’t new to doctors or patients with chronic nasal and sinus conditions or severe colds and the  flu. In this article, Dr. Schalch Lepe discusses loss of sense of smell in relation to colds, allergies, sinus issues, and COVID-19 infection.

How Do We Smell?

Our sense of smell comes from receptors called olfactory sensory neurons, located in the upper part of our nasal passage, along the base of the skull. Chemicals floating in the air bind to these receptors, which produces a chemical reaction that gives us the sensation of smell. This is one of the most basic and important functions in our brain. It is critical during early development, and it affects our memory, our mood and our overall cognitive function.

What Causes Loss of Sense of Smell?

When the nasal passage becomes blocked, or these receptors get damaged, we can experience a loss of smell.

Generally, difficulty with nasal breathing and an impaired sense of smell go hand in hand – because the congestion prevents fragrant molecules from binding to the olfactory receptors. However, with COVID-19, many patients report a loss of smell and taste without experiencing nasal congestion.

It was initially believed that the COVID-19 virus inflicted damage on the olfactory receptors, preventing their normal functioning. However, further research suggests that COVID-19 related loss of sense of smell occurs when the virus acts on non-neuronal cells in our olfactory system, which disrupts communication between the neuronal receptors and the brain.

Recovering from Smell Loss with Smell (Olfactory) Re-Training

Over 50% of patients who tested positive for COVID-19 reported that they experienced a loss of smell. Of those with anosmia, around 70% said “very good” sense of smell recovery after one month of testing negative, and only 2% reported “no improvement at all” after six months. In rare instances, some patients have not recovered their sense of smell.

Fortunately, for those individuals who experienced COVID-19 related smell loss, their sense of smell returned on its own accord. For others who were slower to recover, olfactory re-training proved to be very effective in expediting the return of their sense of smell.

Olfactorytraining is the process of mindfully sniffing four scents twice a day for an extended number of days. Ideally, these scents should have some connection to you, you should enjoy their fragrance, and they should be from four categories: flowery, fruity, spicy, and resinous.

To make the exercise more effective, recall your experience with that scent and connect your visual imagery with the fragrance while smelling the aroma. Over time, you should experience an improved sense of smell. 

Nasal Treatments in San Diego, CA

As we mentioned, smell loss occurs for several reasons. If you’re concerned about smell loss, caused either by COVID-19, nasal polyps, chronic sinusitis, or congestion, then contact Dr. Schalch Lepe for a consultation.

Depending on the cause of your smell loss, there are plenty of available treatments, such as balloon sinuplasty, nasal polyps removal, inferior turbinates reduction or nasal valve treatment. Dr. Schalch Lepe can also give in-depth advice and instructions on smell training should you so require it. Simply call (858) 925-5800 or book your consultation online now.