A change in your sense of smell can be unpleasant and affect how things taste. But it is not usually serious and may get better in a few weeks or months.
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, such as hay fever
- growths in your nose (nasal polyps)
- COVID-19 (coronavirus)
These can cause:
- loss of smell (anosmia)
- smelling things that are not 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
If your sense of smell is affected by an infection or allergy, rinsing the inside of your nose may help. Rinse up to 3 times a day with a salt water solution.
You can make a salt water solution at home.
How to clean your nose with a salt water solution
- Boil a pint of water and leave it to cool to room temperature.
- Mix 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of baking soda (bicarbonate of soda) into the water.
- Wash and dry your hands.
- Stand over a sink, cup the palm of 1 hand and pour a small amount of the solution into it.
- Sniff some of the solution up 1 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.
- Repeat these steps up to 3 times a day.
You do not need to use all of the solution. You can store the solution for 1 day.
Some pharmacies sell sachets you can use to make a salt water solution and devices to help you rinse your nose.
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.
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.