Losing Sense of Smell Old Age | ENT NYC

Question:

I am a 75 year old female.  I have has sinus and allergy problems all my life.  I always have a tissue with me.  In the past 4—5 years I have lost about 95% of my ability to smell.  Taste is fine.  I live alone and not being able to smell can be a real hazard.  I miss this sense very much.  I tried zinc.  Nothing happened.  Is there anything new that might bring back my ability to smell??  Thank you so much.

Answer:

Finally there may be something new…

The loss of  the sense of smell  can be a devastating problem.   Smell is important not just for the enjoyment of food and activities of life, but for safety – avoiding fire and spoiled foods.  Smell can be lost because of nasal congestion- in that case air does not reach the smell fibers, or due to damage to the fibers themselves. Damage can occur after trauma, an upper respiratory infection, or for reasons unknown.  We all do lose some sense of smell as we age.

The loss of the sense of smell should, however, be evaluated.  One needs to be sure that there is no growth obstructing the smell fibers or damaging them directly.   The nasal cavity should be evaluated to make sure there is no unusual congestion (polyps, chronic infection).  Most otolaryngologists (ear nose and throat doctors) can do the appropriate evaluations and recommend therapy, if indicated.

When these causes are ruled out, the treatment for the loss of smell has been limited.  We have recommended alpha lipoic acid- a vitamin that may help with nerve regrowth- but its effectiveness has not really been proven yet.

A recent study, however, just published in November of 2012, is quite promising.  In this study, the use of a low dose theophylline nasal spray,(an old asthma drug- usually taken by mouth)  helped almost all of a small group of patients improve their sense of smell, without reported side effects.

While this clearly needs to be further evaluated, the possible ill effects seem quite small- and the prospects for improvement are encouraging.  We plan on doing a study shortly at the NY Sinus Center to see if we can confirm these results.  Please call us for an appointment if you would be interested.

Robert Pincus MD

Co-director NY Sinus Center