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Coronavirus: Be responsible. Be safe

Health information and advice to stop the spread of coronavirus

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.

A loss or change to your sense of smell can be a symptom of coronavirus. Stay at home and phone your GP.

Causes of lost or changed sense of smell

Changes in sense of smell are most often caused by:

  • a cold or flu
  • sinusitis (sinus infection)
  • an allergy, like hay fever
  • growths in your nose (nasal polyps)

These can cause:

  • loss of smell (anosmia)
  • smelling things that aren't there (phantosmia), like smoke or burnt toast
  • reduced sense of smell (hyposmia)
  • your sense of smell 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 to room temperature.
  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 1 hand and pour a small amount of the solution into it.

You don't need to use all of the solution. But make a fresh batch each day. Do not reuse 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.

Do not go to a pharmacy if you have a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste. It could be coronavirus. Ask someone to go for you if you can.

Stay at home and phone your GP

Self-isolate for 14 days and phone your GP if you have:

  • fever
  • cough
  • shortness of breath
  • lost or changed sense of smell

Phone your GP to discuss your symptoms and whether you need a test for coronavirus. People in your household will need to restrict their movements.

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. To find out more about smell training, see:

Sometimes changes in sense of smell cannot be treated and may be permanent.

If you have 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.

page last reviewed: 29/05/2020
next review due: 29/05/2023