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.

Prevent the spread of COVID-19

A loss or change to your sense of smell can be a symptom of COVID-19 (coronavirus).

Get advice about symptoms of COVID-19 and what to do

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 do not 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.

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.

Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE

Page last reviewed: 29 May 2020
Next review due: 29 May 2023

This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 123.