Medical Q&As

Sense of smell gone - is it serious?

I would like to ask you a question about my dad. His sense of taste and smell have been affected after going through a bad cold recently. He says that everything now tastes or smells of metal. He recently went on a course of antibiotics for this, but found very little improvement. Is there anything else he can do or is it more serious?

The complicated processes of smelling and tasting begin when molecules released by the substances around us stimulate special nerve cells in the nose, mouth, or throat. These cells transmit messages to the brain where specific smells or tastes are identified. If one of these sensory inputs is missing, such as has happened with your father then his overall enjoyment of his food can be affected. It is likely that his sense of smell has been impaired because of his recent infection. The olfactory bulb is a specific collection of nerve cells located high up in the nose that mediate the sensation we describe as smell. These nerve cells are directly connected to the brain where their sensory input is integrated with the sense of taste that is transmitted from the taste buds on the tongue. Many of the flavours we recognize are mainly identified through the sense of smell. For example if you were to hold your nose while eating chocolate you might have trouble identifying it as chocolate even though you can distinguish between the food\'s sweetness or bitterness. This is because the familiar flavour of chocolate is sensed largely by odour. Professional tasters such as professional cooks and wine tasters will always smell the food or wine during the act of tasting in order to fully appreciate the flavour. I suspect that your father still has some persistent inflammation in his nostrils that has affected his sense of smell. His problem may not be medically serious but impairment of the sense of smell can considerably reduce the enjoyment of life. It is possible that this might yet resolve however if it persists he should revisit his GP. He might benefit from using a nasal spray or nose drops, which can help to eliminate any persistent inflammation in the nostrils.