Smell Disorders

What are Smell Disorders?

Our sense of smell is critical to how we function daily, but it also influences our quality of life – smell even directly goes directly to how our brain processes emotions and memory. Your sense of taste is also often reduced when the sense of smell is altered or absent.

There are many reasons why your sense of smell may be reduced or changed. Anosmia is the medical term for the absence of a sense of smell; hyposmia means a diminished sense of smell. Other smell disorders include a distortion in how things smell (parosmia), perception of odours when not present (parosmia) or an unexplained perception of an unpleasant odour (cacosmia).

Frequently asked questions

For 1 in 5 people, there is no identifiable cause, but risk factors include:

  • Head trauma
  • Age
  • Smoking
  • Viral infections (including COVID-19)
  • Medications
  • Nose or sinus conditions such as nasal polyps
  • Medication (e.g., opiates)
  • Some medical conditions, such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s

Mr Annakan Navaratnam will take a full medical history, including the symptoms you’re experiencing. This will establish if there is an underlying condition such as head trauma, infection or medication that might be causing the problem. Skin prick or blood tests may be organised to check for allergies.

He will also perform a detailed examination with an endoscopic camera of the nasal cavity and the olfactory region of the nose where the nerve endings that detect odour are located. He may also organise a CT or MRI scan of the sinuses and skull.

Treatment depends on the underlying cause. If associated with smoking, your sense of smell should return when you quit. Following a viral infection, your sense of smell should return quickly.

If it is caused by an inflammation of the mucous membrane lining of the nasal or sinus cavities, it can be treated with medication and surgery if required.

For some, it may not be possible to identify the cause. Smell retraining therapy (SRT) is a treatment for loss of smell, which can be used to help return your sense of smell.

Fifth Sense is a charity that offers support, advice and a signpost to potential diagnosis and treatment to people affected by smell and taste disorders.

Mr Annakan Navaratnam


Mr Annakan Navaratnam

Annakan Navaratnam is Consultant Ear, Nose & Throat (ENT) Surgeon whose private practice is based at Harrow and One Welbeck Hospital in Central London and The Clementine Churchill Hospital in Harrow. In his NHS practice, he works at Royal National ENT Hospital, University College London Hospital (UCLH) and is an honorary consultant at Great Ormond Street Hospital.

He has a subspeciality interest in rhinology and facial plastic surgery with particular expertise in septorhinoplasty and nose reshaping surgery.

Annakan is excellently placed to manage general adult and paediatric ENT presentations and in particular is able to assess and treat complex problems related to the form and function of the nose. This includes endonasal (scarless) rhinoplasty, revision septorhinoplasty as well as advanced endoscopic sinus surgery.