Treating smell loss

When to see a doctor?

If you’ve lost your sense of smell for three weeks or more, see your doctor.

Short-term changes in your sense of smell are common after a cold or sinus infection, but if your symptoms persist or if you’re at all worried about long-term changes in your sense of smell, you should seek medical advice.

In some cases, changes in your sense of smell can be a warning sign of a more serious condition, so it is always best to get medical attention to either rule out that possibility or take early action.

To help you have the most effective conversations with your doctor, download this Talking to my doctor ​​​​​​document to take with you to your appointment.

How is smell loss diagnosed?

Your doctor may refer you to a specialist to try to determine the origin of your smell loss. An ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist ​​​​​could perform an endoscopic exam which uses a tiny camera to look at the inside of your nose. A neurologist might explore other symptoms you have experienced to investigate more serious brain problems. 

Your doctor may also carry out other tests including:

  • Checking the lowest strength of a smell that you can detect
  • Asking you to compare different smells
  • Observing your olfactory anatomy using an MRI scan

Potential treatments

When diagnosis has ruled out other conditions, there is currently no medicine to cure smell loss. Sometimes a steroid spray may be prescribed, but this is only for short-term use and does not cure smell loss.

Don’t be surprised if your doctor says there’s nothing to be done and sends you away.

This doesn’t mean there is nothing you can do to help your recovery; there’s just no medication for your condition. However, your doctor may be able to help you with associated problems like extreme weight loss or low mood, so do ask for help when you need it.

Managing your recovery

Sudden smell loss can be the result of damage to olfactory neurons from illness or injury. These neurons are designed to regenerate but the process takes time. Healing will happen naturally, but there are things you can do to support your recovery.

Smell training, keeping your nose clear with regular rinsing, and eating a healthy diet are all important things you can do to improve recovery time. It can also help to talk to others sharing a similar experience as they will have hints and tips to overcome some of the challenges of living with little or no smell. You may also be more vulnerable to low mood and depression during this time, so take care of your mental health too.