Everything Smells the Same to Me: Common Reasons. What to Do?

JAN 18, 2023 AT 01:09 PM

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Your sense of smell is one of the five senses that help you navigate the world. Smell is important as it helps us to ensure that what we are eating is indeed edible and that it has not gone bad or has the potential to harm us.

Our olfactory sense is the reason why we can distinguish the vast and intricate array of tastes, that make eating pleasurable.

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Illness

Nearly everyone who has ever had a cold or blocked nose can attest to the fact that when your nose is blocked up, food has no taste. During Covid, many people experience affected senses of taste and smell. Suddenly everything you eat tastes as if it has pepper in it or you lose your liking for chocolate because it smells like soap (Horrors!)

The good news is that it is nearly always temporary. There have been cases of taste and smell not returning to what they were before, but these are in the minority.

How the Sense of Smell Works

Receptor cells in your nose and mouth activate when air-borne molecules enter and bind to them. These cells send messages to the brain about what the molecules smell like. They can distinguish between pleasant and unpleasant smells. Taste and smell work hand in hand to help us distinguish differences in the foods we eat. Even subtle differences are picked up by these senses.

Parosmia, Anosmia and Hyposmia

WebMD tells us that this is a disorder called Parosmia, where odors of some or sometimes everything becomes distorted. There is a sensory dysfunction between the neurons in the nose and the brain. The odors that are detected are not translated correctly. Normally foods with pleasant smells like fruit, smell like something terrible like rotting fish. This disorder frequently occurs after an infection from a virus.

Jennifer Huber, writing for scopeblog.stanford.edu.com, researched anosmia (complete loss of smell) and hyposmia (partial loss of smell). Neuropathies (disorders of the nerves) are a fairly common complaint during and after viral infections, such as in Covid 19. Several viruses attack the mucus membranes that surround the nerves of the brain.

These nerves control the movements and senses of the head and neck. Inflammation caused by these viruses prevents the nerves from being able to function correctly, therefore affecting our senses, especially that of smell.

Other Health Problems

The Cleveland Clinic mentions that the sense of taste named ageusia often accompanies parosmia, anosmia, and hyposmia. These medical issues affect hundreds of thousands of people every year.

Allergies, brain injuries, liver disease, hypothyroidism, Sjogren's syndrome which causes dry mouth, gum disease, nasal polyps, sinus infections, and sinonasal tumors are known to cause olfactory impairment. As do neurological conditions such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases.

Deficiencies in certain vitamins such as niacin and vitamin B12 may dull your smell too. A loss of smell and/or taste has been linked to an increase in depression because pleasant scents affect the mood, bringing peace and happiness.

Age-Related Loss of Smell

After the age of 60 years, a dulling of the senses is natural says the Mayo Clinic. Boyce and Shone, postgraduates wrote an article on the reasons for this. Both anatomical and physiological theories are investigated.

Medical professionals are aware that the proliferation of fibers in the nasal bulb and olfactory sensors decreases with age. The nasal membranes become weaker, thinner, and drier. They are unable to distinguish the subtle changes in smells as well. The nerves transporting these messages from our olfactory organs age as well, and lead to a deterioration in the central nervous system.

Although mammals, including humans, can replace olfactory receptor neurons, this process is slower and not as effective with age. This in turn may lead to earlier cell death.

Because smell and taste are intricately linked, when our taste buds age, this may also affect our sense of taste.

Medicines

Temporary effects of medications for other health-related issues have been known to dull the sense of smell. These medicines include certain antibiotics, blood pressure medications, drugs that lower cholesterol, and antidepressants state www.drugs.com. Other medications such as antidiabetic, antihyperlipidemic, and protein pump inhibitors are reported to cause phantom odors.

This may be caused by gastric gas reflux. Not only do diseases of the upper respiratory tract cause a loss of smell but certain medications that treat these symptoms may also do the same. Certain oral drugs and decongestant nose sprays may cause temporary or even permanent loss of smell.

Complications

A loss of smell and associated taste may have complications. Because they are such important senses determining what we eat, we lose a desire to eat This can lead to dehydration and malnutrition. Many people with impaired smell and taste add too much sugar or salt to their meals to add flavor, which can lead to hypertension and diabetes.

Our sense of smell is sensitive to many things that can cause us harm. Because we more often than not smell before we eat something, our olfactory organs warn us to avoid any food that has spoiled, therefore preventing food poisoning.

Other situations such as smoke, gas, and harmful chemicals in our homes can be avoided or mitigated with early detection.

Advice on What to Do

If your sense of smell or any other sense does not return after a viral infection, seek medical assistance timeously. The longer you leave it, the less chance that medical interventions may help. Your healthcare provider will give you a physical examination to rule out signs of infection that cause nasal congestion.

He/she will ask questions relating to any recent head injuries or other medical conditions that may be causing your loss of smell. You should provide your doctor with a list of your medications. If one or other of them may be causing the problem, this medication may be able to be changed to avoid this side effect.

If your doctor refers you to an otolaryngologist (ENT specialist), you may be given an olfactory test, where you will be required to smell various chemicals. The doctor will dilute the chemical until you can no longer smell it.

A taste test may accompany the smell test, to ascertain the degree to which your sense of smell is affecting your taste. Your ENT doctor may also arrange for you to undergo imaging tests such as a CT scan or MRI if there is a possibility of tumors or cysts or a brain injury.

  • The Natural Route

If you would like to try natural remedies to regain your sense of smell first, these are some suggestions from Health Shots.

  • Carom Seeds

This Indian remedy is used by many to treat allergies and colds. It is bitter to the taste, but assists in increasing a person's olfactory function and helps to clear congestion. One may take it by mouth or inhale the aroma several times a day.

  • Garlic

Garlic is well known for its healing properties. Used as an antiviral and immune-boosting remedy, it can also reduce inflammation of the olfactory mucus membranes and sinus infections. For best results, one can chew crushed garlic cloves and then swallow them with a glass of hot water with lemon.

  • Ginger

Another potent-smelling natural remedy, it is widely used as an antioxidant and flavoring additive. It is also a powerful medicine for the treatment of excess mucus in colds and as an anti-inflammatory, reducing the swelling of nasal passages and restoring the sense of smell.

  • Saline Drops

Whether you irrigate your nose with a neti pot, drops, or syringe, saline water is beneficial in clearing the nose and sinuses of excess mucus and germs. This can be done several times a day.

Conclusion

Our sense of smell is one of the important senses that help us navigate our way in life. Not only does our sense of smell make our days pleasurable, but can assist us in life-or-death situations. Many illnesses and conditions can affect our sense of smell such as viral infections, organ failures, brain injuries, and neurological disorders.

As we age, our senses including that of smell, deteriorate due to the slowing down of cell regeneration. If our sense of smell does not return satisfactorily, even with trying home remedies, it is important to see a medical professional timeously where several tests to determine the cause can be conducted.