Mmmmmm. My belly is full, I’m lying on the couch and reliving dinner last night- mainly the wonderful spread of different deserts. The thought reminds me of my grandmother when I was growing up who would always bake the most extravagant pies for Thanksgiving. On the day after Thanksgiving, she would let us eat whatever we wanted of the leftovers for lunch- you can guess what I chose: pie of course! Just remembering that smell of freshly baking cherry pie, the tart taste of the fruit when I took my first bite- amazing. It is incredible how much our memories and smell are related. But what if you can’t smell well? What if taste is just a shadow of what it used to be? Is there something to be done?
Smell is such a vital sense and we often take it for granted. It warns us when something may be dangerous to approach or even eat. It invites us to taste something delicious. And it is tightly wound with our memories. Because the nerve for smell goes directly into a place in the brain near where our emotions and memories are controlled, it is able to bring back thoughts of the past more than any other sensation. Haven’t you ever wondered why certain smells immediately make you remember a person or a place? This is why! Smell is also vital for taste. Most of what we consider taste is actually from smell. You know this if you have had a cold and then tried to eat your favorite soup- it no longer tastes like your favorite soup. Some of us are dealing with this loss on a daily basis and may not even notice it anymore because we have become used to our “new normal.” This is not a way to live! Let’s discuss some perfectly curable causes of smell loss today.
Smell is a sense that is run by just one nerve and has little receptors that pick-up smell molecules. These receptors live deep and high in the nose very close to the brain. If air cannot get to the receptors, you will be unable to smell. If the receptors are damaged, you will be unable to smell.
Sinus disease can gradually or even rapidly block your sense of smell. Some types of sinus disease have polyps. Polyps are like tiny grapes that grow inside your nose from severe inflammation. They can take up a lot of space and block the air that you breathe from getting deep into your nose to contact the smell receptors. Polyps cannot be taken away with medications alone. Steroids will temporarily shrink the polyps, but you should not be on steroids forever due to long term side effects. And once you stop taking the steroids, the polyps will plump back up again. That means that we have to take polyps out with a sinus procedure. Sometimes these can be done in office, depending on the facility, but frequently this means a trip to the operating room. The beautiful thing about polyps being the cause of your loss of smell is that removing them should bring back your smell! Back to actually enjoying your family feasts again!
Other types of sinus disease can lead to loss of smell from inflammation alone. We don’t really understand why it works like this, but we know that if your sinuses are inflamed, you may have loss of smell even if the pathway to the receptors for smell is open. Personally, I think that the inflammation from sinuses transfers to the smell receptors. Nothing that is inflamed functions the same as when it isn’t inflamed. It’s like a surge of electricity that fries your computer. Too much inflammation can take away your sense of smell. For these patients, sometimes antibiotics and steroids will help bring back the sense of smell. However, these medicines normally do not have lasting results. No one wants to be constantly taking medication and that is why we will frequently recommend some type of sinus procedure to open up your sinuses. For some patients we can even offer the new minimally invasive balloon sinuplasty procedure that boasts less recovery time, pain, and bleeding after the procedure.
Finally, the last easily curable cause of loss of smell is nasal congestion. I wrote an entire blog post earlier about nasal congestion and you should read that if you want to know more. A quick recap is that the structure that divides the sides of your nose, known as the septum, can be pushed to one side or both and lead to difficulty breathing. The sides of your nasal cavity has structures that help moisten the air that you breathe. These can swell and take up too much space in your nose making it difficult for air to pass. If air is having trouble getting into your nose because of a deviated septum or enlarged tissues, you can have problems with your smell. These are problems that we can fix with simple procedures that have lasting results.
Get out there and enjoy the holidays! Savor the smell of mulled wine, wood burning in the fireplace, cookies baking in the oven. Take a big bite of your favorite holiday treat and be thankful for your sense of smell. If you wonder if maybe you may be suffering from a loss of smell, come and see me. At Texas Sinus and Snoring, we would love to take a deeper look to see if you have a curable cause of smell loss.