A little girl smells a flower with her nose

The fragrance of a flower. The aroma of baking bread. The stench of rotten eggs. Good or bad, smells help us identify things around us and help us navigate the world. But how does our sense of smell work? And what happens if it stops? Read on to learn how our noses function.

How does my nose work?

Molecules are released by substances around us. When they enter your nostrils, they can stimulate receptors located on the olfactory sensory neurons in the back of the nose. Those neurons send messages to your brain, which identifies the smell.

Smells can also reach the sensory neurons through a channel that connects the top of the throat to the nose. For example, when you chew food, the molecules can stimulate those neurons.

Why did my sense of smell stop working?

There are a number of reasons why your sense of smell may fade. A very common cause is aging. About 25 percent of men and 11 percent of women between the ages of 60 and 69 have a smelling disorder, according to the National Institute of Health.

Sinus infections, often caused by colds or the flu, can also impede your sense of smell. When your nose is blocked, smells can’t reach your olfactory receptors. Because your senses of smell and taste are intertwined, this is also why you can’t taste food well when you’re sick.

Other things that might cause problems with a sense of smell include:

Is it a big deal if you can’t smell?

You might not think smelling is that important. After all, you’re not particularly interested in sniffing flowers. But the sense of smell plays a significant role in your life. For one thing, smell is often an early warning signal. Has the mayonnaise you’re about to eat gone bad? Did somebody spill paint thinner? Is that smoke? Without a sense of smell, you couldn’t tell if some things are dangerous until it’s potentially too late.

Also, the loss of a sense of smell can be a sign of a more serious medical condition, such as:

  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Hypertension
  • Malnutrition
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Alzheimer’s disease

What can I do if I don’t have a sense of smell?

Otolaryngologist FP Johns Langford, MD

Fortunately, some smell disorders can be treated, so it is important to have a comprehensive nasal evaluation, CEENTA ENT doctor FP Johns Langford, MD, said. This may include a nasal endoscopy – where a small telescope is used to visualize the nose and sinus cavity openings – as well as a CT or MRI imaging of the nose, sinus, and where the olfactory nerve enters the roof of the nose.

Don’t live life without the ability to smell. If you are having issues smelling the world around you, make an appointment with a CEENTA ENT doctor today.

This blog is for informational purposes only. For specific medical questions, please consult your physician. Dr. Langford practices in our Concord location. To make an appointment with him or any of our ENT doctors, call 704-295-3000. You can also schedule an appointment online or through myCEENTAchart.


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