Taste & Smell Disorders

Olfaction, or the sense of smell, is an important function of the nasal cavity and skull base that has become increasingly investigated due to its role in behavior, cognition, disease severity, quality of life, and sinonasal disease. In fact, 80% of our taste is related to smell. Most patients who complain of a loss of taste actually suffer from a loss of smell because the majority of a food’s flavor comes from our ability to smell it. The tongue is our taste organ, and can sense salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami (or savory), but the rest of a food’s flavor is provided by our sense of smell. This is why it is difficult to appreciate a food’s flavor when one has nasal obstruction from a cold, stuffy nose, or rhinosinusitis. Disorders of smell and taste are fairly common, affecting approximately 2 million people in the United States. Common obstructive causes of smell loss include a deviated septum, nasal allergies, structural abnormalities, and swelling of the mucosa caused by chronic rhinosinusitis (CRS). Inflammation from CRS can cause loss of smell by physically obstructing access to the smell nerves and, in some instances, permanently affect smell by damaging the special cells and nerves of the smell pathway. Evidence is growing that suggests that by controlling the underlying inflammation in the nose, we can improve the ability to smell. Patients who suffer from the loss of smell or taste are encouraged to seek medical attention as soon as possible to determine the cause of their loss. While certain smell losses are permanent, a nose and sinus specialist can effectively treat other losses medically or surgically.