I can’t smell! Is it Covid? Aging? or something more?

One of my favorite childhood memories was the smell of Mom’s cinnamon rolls when I walked into our house after school, knowing there was probably a batch coming out of the oven at that moment. And working in the Flogstad Bakery for a few years had the same effect on me, as well as most of our customers. Who doesn’t love some favorite smell to bring you back to a pleasant memory or experience?

That ability to smell and taste is something we take for granted – until it fades away or suddenly disappears. Then it can change our appetites, possibly resulting in poor nutrition, lead to excessive salt or sugar use, and even cause depression. There are instances of people ingesting dangerous substances or not recognizing a gas leak because they can’t smell or taste.

If you were like many people over the years, you may have had a cold or two every winter and thought little about it. Sneezing, stuffy head, runny nose and a cough were part of the typical scenario. It’s also possible that with that cold, or a sinus infection that may have followed, you temporarily lost your ability to smell, which was accompanied by a loss of taste or even an interest in food. But those symptoms were gone with the cold.

Covid-19 changed everything in the past year, and one of its most common symptoms was an accompanying loss of smell and taste. In fact, for some people that was often the first and sometimes the only symptom of the disease. Many regained their ability to smell after a few weeks to a month. Research is ongoing in this area.

But the loss of smell and taste has been a hallmark of several other health conditions, and as we age, it’s important to recognize this symptom.

It’s not unusual to have a minor loss of taste and smell with aging, according to the Mayo Clinic. That loss can also be a result of several issues over the years, like chronic sinus problems, allergies, some medications, dental problems, smoking, or some types of head or facial injury. Some of those can be treated with lifestyle changes or medical treatments.

Yet more seriously, the loss of smell and taste are common symptoms of both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease. In fact, it may appear years before other changes occur. Unlike with a cold, this inability may be a signal that one area of the brain, the olfactory bulb, is already being damaged. Research into these connections have been going on for some time, and many experts are looking into using this to evaluate patients as part of diagnosis and testing.

For general information on taste, smell and aging: Is loss of taste and smell normal with aging?

For information about smell and Alzheimer’s: Can a Smell Test Sniff Out Alzheimer’s Disease?

For information about smell and PD: Loss of Smell

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