Dr. Oringer: Hi, Mrs. Perrett. My name is Dr. Oringer. I hear you've been having some problems with your nose and sinuses. Tell me a little bit about when those problems started.
Maryann: Probably about six years ago.
Dr. Oringer: And what did you first notice?
Maryann: It first started with a chronic cough, and then eventually drainage...
Narrator: Maryann Perret is an older adult who lost her sense of smell.
Dr. Oringer: Difficulty breathing through your nose with that?
Maryann: In the beginning, yes. But right now, no. I'm fine breathing.
Dr. Oringer: Does the sense of smell come and go or it is pretty much always gone?
Maryann: It's always gone.
Narrator: There are several reasons people may experience a loss of smell. Having a nasal infection is the number-one cause.
Dr. Beauchamp: The most common cause of smell disorder is a loss due to an upper respiratory disease. For example a cold, a flu, or something like that.
Narrator: In addition to a nasal infection, other reasons for loss of smell can include head injury, aging, allergies, certain medications, exposure to toxic chemicals, and diseases such as Alzheimer's or Parkinson's. If you've noticed the problem for a while, check with your doctor. He or she may refer you to an otolaryngologist, a specialist in diseases of the ear, nose and throat.
Dr. Beauchamp: To diagnose smell disorders, there's a number of tests that are being done both in your physician's office or in specialized laboratories and they involve sniffing things and trying to identify the odors. There are various instruments and machines that can help to diagnose disorders.
Narrator: Another test, an endoscopy, lets the doctor look in the nasal passages to try to see how extensive the problem is. Maryann's problem started with a sinus infection.
Maryann: My chronic sinus infections started about nine years ago, and they've just -- I've had two sinus surgeries and it's just something that you have to learn to deal with.
Narrator: Depending on the cause of your smell problem, your doctor may be able to treat your smell disorder.
Dr. Beauchamp: Recently it's been shown that we can now treat some smell disorders with steroids and this works in a number of cases. We don't understand which cases it works for and which cases it doesn't, and it's not clear how long it lasts.
Narrator: Maryann's problem with smell is helped by steroids, but only for as long as she takes them.
Dr. Oringer: And of the medicines you said that you've used, what have you found to be helpful as far as the sense of smell?
Maryann: To come back Prednisone.
Dr. Oringer: And that seems to be really the only thing that works?
Maryann: That's the only thing that works.
Dr. Oringer: Does it give you any long-lasting relief, or is it only while you're taking the medicine?
Maryann: It's only while I'm taking it.
Narrator: If your smell problem is due to allergies, your sense of smell may return once the condition stops. If you take medication and you notice smell loss, check with your doctor.
Dr. Beauchamp: If you think your medications are causing a problem with your sense of smell, the best thing to do is to go have yourself evaluated by your doctor, to see whether you have a loss or alteration.
Narrator: Unfortunately, scientists have not yet found a cure for loss of smell due to aging.
Dr. Beauchamp: The treatment of smell disorders has been something many of us have been working on for a long time. Steroids will help treat certain people with smell loss, particularly those that have had upper respiratory diseases. Trauma to the head -- much more difficult to treat and we have no idea how to treat the smell loss with aging.
Narrator: Not everyone with a smell disorder will regain their sense of smell. But, like Maryann, they can learn to live with it.
Maryann: It's something that I don't think about and I just go, you know, I just go on, or I can't -- My sister just bought a new car. Well, I couldn't smell the new car smell. And my sister just had a baby and you know how fresh babies smell. I just can't, you know, smell him. But that's when I really think about it. But going through my day-to-day routine, I never really think about it. It's just something that I have to deal with.