The Psychological & Health Impact of Smell Loss

A well-functioning sense of smell is something that most of us take for granted until it’s lost. Many studies and researches have reported a decreased quality of life with temporary and permanent anosmia (the loss of smell).

The first direct impact of anosmia is that people lose interest in food and eating. This can lead to decreased appetite. This decreased appetite will, consequently, lead to malnutrition and possibly weight loss. Anosmia can lead to further complications such as:

  • Ability to smell spoiled food: it can lead to food poisoning.
  • The increased danger in case of a fire if you can not smell smoke
  • Losing the ability to recall memories related to smell.
  • Loss of libido due to the inability to register pheromones.
  • Inability to detect chemical and other dangerous substances

Research conducted by The Korea National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey tried explaining the effects of loss of smell. They used questionnaires to evaluate the effects of anosmia in individuals. It was observed that loss of smell was associated with an increased risk for depressed mood and suicidal ideation. Older age patients were particularly susceptible. Various pollutants including air pollution and dust cause an increase in nasal diseases. This increase in nasal diseases leads to a growing number of people developing loss of smell. In addition to this, loss of smell can cause reduced immunity, loss of olfactory defense mechanism for survival. A study showed mortality rates increase by 275% in Anosmia patients.

Patients with congenital anosmia also show a greater tendency for depression disorders. Suicidal ideation among sufferers is also critically high. Loss of smell causes profound psychological issues such as:

  • Feeling of loneliness
  • Depression
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Memory problems
  • Fear
  • Anger
  • Decreased self-esteem

Case Scenario:

Larry Banton, 54 years old, temporarily lost his sense of smell due to chemotherapy. Anosmia significantly changed his sense of taste and his ability to enjoy eating.

“When I’d eat food, I tried to remember what it was supposed to taste like, but it was a total illusion,” he said. “Eating became something I had to do because I just needed to, not because I was enjoying it.”

It is important to note that olfactory systems are involved in the regulation of sensory functions, emotions, and memory formation. Researches have proved that olfaction or sense of smell is impaired in animals suffering from stress. Scientists now believe that dysfunction in the olfactory system directly forms the neurobiological basis of depression. Researches like these can open new doors for the invention of new nasal therapies for the treatment of depression.

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