Problems with Smell

Protecting Your Sense of Smell

Like all of our senses, our sense of smell plays an important part in our lives. The sense of smell often serves as a first warning signal, alerting us to the smoke of a fire, spoiled food, or the odor of a natural gas leak or dangerous fumes. Our sense of smell also lets us enjoy the flavors of foods and the aromas of nice fragrances.

These steps can help protect your sense of smell.

Treat Sinus Infections

Seek treatment for chronic nasal or sinus infections, which are a primary cause of smell problems. Your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic or anti-inflammatory drug to reduce the nasal swelling. Such treatments often improve your sense of smell.

You can help prevent problems with smell caused by upper respiratory infections and colds by washing your hands frequently, especially during the winter months. Hand washing helps protect you from getting respiratory infections and colds. Get a flu shot every year to prevent influenza and other serious respiratory conditions that can result from the flu.

For more information about the flu vaccine, visit Key Facts About Seasonal Flu Vaccine

Avoid Allergens

If your smell disorder is caused by allergies and seasonal nasal congestion, you should avoid allergens, such as ragweed, grasses, and pet dander.

Avoid Head Injuries

Previous surgery or trauma to the head can impair your sense of smell because the olfactory nerves may be cut, blocked, or physically damaged. To reduce the risk of injuries to the head, everyone should wear a seat belt when riding in a car. People who participate in sports, such as bicycling, should wear protective helmets.

Avoid Exposure to Toxic Substances

Avoid contact with toxic substances or wear a respirator if you cannot avoid contact. If you do come in contact with toxic substances and experience a problem with your ability to smell, see your doctor.

Review Your Medications

If you are taking medications such as certain antibiotics or antihistamines and notice a change in your sense of smell, talk to your doctor. You may be able to adjust or change your medicine to one that will not cause a problem with smell.

Don’t Smoke

Tobacco smoking impairs the ability to identify and enjoy odors. Quitting smoking is one thing you can do right now to protect your sense of smell. For free help to quit smoking, visit

Treat Nasal Polyps If Necessary

Nasal polyps are are small, non-cancerous growths in the nose or sinuses that can block the ability of odors to reach olfactory sensory cells high up in the nose. If you have nasal polyps, having them removed may restore smell.

Treat Other Conditions

If you have diabetes, thyroid abnormalities, certain vitamin deficiencies, or are malnourished and you experience a loss of smell or taste, tell your doctor. In some cases, when the condition that is causing the problem with smell is treated, the sense of smell returns.