Loss of Smell (Anosmia)

This information is useful for children, adults, and older adults
A woman smells the flowers.
Why Yale Medicine?
  • Our ear, nose and throat specialists are experts at identifying the root causes of smell disturbances.
  • We provide multidisciplinary care for allergy, asthma and sinus conditions.
  • Our advanced surgical techniques allow us to remove tumors and nasal polyps, and to address nasal deformities that affect the sense of smell.

The aroma of just-baked cookies, roses in full bloom, and other everyday scents make our lives richer in ways we often taken for granted. Yet, when the sense of smell is lost or compromised—a condition called anosmia—it is not just enjoyment of life that is affected but also health and safety. Our sense of smell helps whet the appetite and also serves as a warning system to avert dangers and toxins.

“Two of the great joys in people’s lives are the sensations of smell and taste,” says R. Peter Manes, MD, an ear, nose and throat specialist at Yale Medicine. “When these senses are altered or absent, people lose that pleasure and can feel isolated from those around them who are not afflicted.”

At Yale Medicine, our otolaryngologists work with you to determine the cause of your lost sense of smell and, when possible, to help restore it for your overall health and wellbeing.

Anosmia is the partial or full loss of smell. Anosmia  can be a temporary or permanent condition. You can partially or completely lose your sense of smell when the mucus membranes in your nose are irritated or obstructed such as when you have a severe cold or a sinus infection, for example. But if the inability to smell isn’t related to a cold or sinus infection, or it doesn’t return after congestion clears, you should see a doctor. It could be a symptom of another issue.

The sense of smell is important to overall health and nutrition since diminished sensations can lead to poor appetite and malnutrition, especially in the elderly. An altered sense of smell may pose other health-related problems. People with anosmia may accidentally consume soured or rancid foods because they are unable to detect odors that signal spoilage. Those with anosmia may also be unaware when they are breathing toxic, polluted or smoke-filled air, which can be dangerous to their health and safety as well. 

Although rare, some people are born without the sense of smell, which is a condition called congenital anosmia. This occurs when there is either an inherited genetic disorder or abnormal development of the olfactory system (the body’s sensory system for smell) occurring before birth. Unfortunately, there is no cure for congenital anosmia.