In the recent situation of COVID-19, people have come over a word called ‘Anosmia’. Anosmia/ smell blindness refers to the loss of sense of smell and partial or complete. Anosmia is of various types, such as specific (anosmic for a particular odour) and congenital anosmia (inability since birth).
We as humans often take the things we have access to, for granted. And, the sense of smell falls into this category. Unless a person suffers from cold due to which he/she suffers from anosmia temporarily, he/she does not realise how it is to not be able to smell one’s favourite food or any flower in a garden full of flowers.
Causes Of Anosmia
The nasal pathway processes what we smell. This pathway involves various parts of the brain, including the olfactory bulb, amygdala and hippocampus. Any hindrance in this pathway may lead to the condition. Inflammation of the nasal passageways is a cause of anosmia. It can also be a natural phenomenon arising in old age as ageing and neurodegeneration go hand in hand.
Anosmia can be observed in certain mild conditions such as cold, allergy & infection, as well as in various diseases & disorders, such as diabetes, multiple sclerosis, schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and Myasthenia gravis. Interestingly, there are also some medicines, like ‘Zicam’ which also lead to the condition.
Anosmia is also a sign of COVID-19. To find out more about COVID-19 and how it differs from the flu, you may read the article ‘COVID-19 or Flu?’
Signs And Symptoms
The primary symptom of anosmia is the fact that the person loses the ability to smell. This generally leads to weight loss because the person loses interest in eating.
How To Diagnose Anosmia
When a person is not able to smell things for a period longer than two weeks of a cold or allergy, he/she should consult a doctor. The doctor specialising in this field is an otolaryngologist or an ENT (ear, nose, throat) doctor.
Anosmia diagnosis is usually through acetylcysteine tests along with detailed enquiry with the patient. In a quest to discover the reason behind the condition, the doctor asks several questions to the patients regarding any particular experience like an accident or injury or if the patient smokes.
Presently, just like tests are conducted for testing a person’s allergy, ‘smell-testing kits’ are available in most of the clinics to test for the sensitivity of a person to smells. In cases of injury, the doctors conduct several other tests, such as CT scan or MRI to check for cranial nerves’ damage.
Complications & Precautions
Anosmia is not as simple as one thinks it to be. It is not just being unable to smell flowers or your favourite food, it is much beyond that!
People with anosmia need to be over-cautious regarding certain things. If there is fire in the house, the patient can no longer smell it and be able to detect the fire and hence, smoke-detectors are a must in such patients’ houses to reduce the risk to their lives. The patient can not only not smell favourite food item but also cannot smell any spoilt or rotten food. So, there is a need for the patient to stress on the expiry date of the food item.
Extensive research is ongoing to overcome this condition due to the fact that since 2012, a significant proportion of the US population has been diagnosed with anosmia. Correct diagnosis is necessary for the correct treatment.
If the cause of anosmia is inflammation, then inflammation is subsided by anti-inflammatory medicines which generally include glucocorticoids. Any obstruction in the nasal passageway is removed if that is the underlying cause.
However, there is no treatment yet if the cause behind the loss of smell is brain damage. The same applies for congenital anosmia. Extensive research is ongoing to treat the condition arising from these causes, for example, the scientists are inclining towards conducting gene therapy in mice for treatment of congenital anosmia. Hopefully the same works out for humans as well!
If you experience a loss in the smell sensation, consult with a doctor as it is one of the symptoms of COVID-19.
Stay Safe! Stay Happy!
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