Smell Disorders (cont.)
What causes smell disorders?
Smell disorders have many causes,
some clearer than others. Most people who develop a smell disorder have recently
experienced an illness or an injury. Common triggers are upper respiratory
infections and head injuries.
Among other causes of smell disorders are polyps in the
nasal cavities, sinus infections, hormonal disturbances, or dental problems.
Exposure to certain chemicals, such as insecticides and solvents, and some
medicines have also been associated with smell disorders. People with head and
neck cancers who receive radiation treatment are also among those who experience problems with their
sense of smell.
How are smell disorders diagnosed?
Doctors and scientists have
developed tests to determine the extent and nature of a person's smell disorder. Tests are designed to measure the smallest
amount of odor patients can detect as well as their accuracy in identifying
different smells. In fact, an easily administered "scratch and sniff" test
allows a person to scratch pieces of paper treated to release different odors,
sniff them, and try to identify each odor from a list of possibilities. In this
way, doctors can easily determine whether patients have hyposmia, anosmia, or
another kind of smell disorder.
Are smell disorders serious?
Yes. 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 or the odor of a natural gas leak and dangerous fumes.
Perhaps more important is that our chemosenses are sometimes a signal of serious
health problems. Obesity, diabetes, hypertension, malnutrition,
Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, multiple sclerosis, and Korsakoff's
all accompanied or signaled by chemosensory problems like smell disorders.