Lost or changed sense of smell

A change in your sense of smell can be unpleasant and affect how things taste. But it isn't usually serious and may get better in a few weeks or months. See your GP if your sense of smell doesn't go back to normal in a few weeks.

Causes of lost or changed sense of smell

Changes in sense of smell are most often due to:

These can cause:

  • loss of smell (anosmia)
  • smelling things that aren't there (phantosmia), like smoke or burnt toast
  • reduced sense of smell (hyposmia)
  • the smell of things to change (parosmia)

It's also common to lose some of your sense of smell as you get older.

Cleaning inside your nose can help

Rinsing the inside of your nose with a salt water solution may help if your sense of smell is affected by an infection or allergy.

You can make a salt water solution at home.

How to clean your nose with a salt water solution

  1. boil a pint of water then leave it to cool
  2. mix a teaspoon of salt and a teaspoon of baking soda (bicarbonate of soda) into the water
  3. wash your hands
  4. stand over a sink, cup the palm of one hand and pour a small amount of the solution into it
  5. sniff some of the solution up one nostril at a time and let it run out of your nose - it might help to hold your other nostril closed with your finger as you sniff
  6. repeat these steps a few times to see if it helps

You don't need to use all of the solution, but make a fresh batch each day – don't re-use any left over from the day before.

Some pharmacies sell sachets you can use to make a salt water solution and devices to help you rinse your nose.

When to see your GP

You should see your GP if your sense of smell doesn't go back to normal in a few weeks.

They'll check for any obvious causes, such as sinusitis or nasal polyps.

They may refer you to a specialist for tests if they're not sure what the problem is.

Treatment for lost or changed sense of smell

Your sense of smell may go back to normal in a few weeks or months.

Treating the cause might help. For example, steroid nasal sprays or drops might help if you have sinusitis or nasal polyps.

A treatment called "smell training" can also help some people. The organisation Fifth Sense has more about how to do smell training.

Sometimes changes in sense of smell can't be treated and may be permanent.

Important

If you've lost your sense of smell, you may not be able to smell things like gas leaks, fires and food that has gone off. Fifth Sense has some safety advice if you have anosmia.

The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.

For further information see terms and conditions.

This page was published November 2018

This page is due for review January 2021

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