What Is Anosmia? | Olfaction and Taste | JAMA | JAMA Network
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JAMA Patient Page
June 18, 2020

What Is Anosmia?

Author Affiliations
  • 1Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland
  • 2Department of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery, Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, Maryland
JAMA. 2020;324(2):206. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.10966

Anosmia (the inability to smell) and hyposmia (a decreased ability to smell) describe the range of olfactory dysfunction, or smell disorders.

The ability to smell is a complex process involving the nose and brain. When air passes into the nose, odor molecules bind to the receptors of olfactory nerves. These nerves are found in a specialized lining at the top of the nasal cavity called the olfactory epithelium. The stimulation of olfactory nerves causes them to transmit a signal to the brain, where it is processed into a scent that a person can recognize and identify.

Smell disorders such as anosmia affect about 15 of every 1000 people in the United States and are more common with older age. Some common causes include sinonasal disorders such as allergic rhinitis (hay fever) and nasal polyps, head trauma, and infections such as viral illnesses. Anosmia can also be congenital (present at birth), idiopathic (no known cause), or related to dementia such as Parkinson disease or Alzheimer disease.

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