A change in your sense of smell can be unpleasant and affect how things taste. But it is not usually serious and may get better in a few weeks or months.
Important: Could it be coronavirus (COVID-19)?
A loss or change to your sense of smell or taste could be COVID-19.
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 are not there (phantosmia), like smoke or burnt toast
- reduced sense of smell (hyposmia)
- the smell of things 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 saltwater solution may help if your sense of smell is affected by an infection or allergy.
You can make a saltwater solution at home.
How to clean your nose with a saltwater solution
- Boil a pint of water, then leave it to cool.
- Mix a teaspoon of salt and a teaspoon of baking soda (bicarbonate of soda) into the water.
- Wash your hands.
- Stand over a sink, cup the palm of 1 hand and pour a small amount of the solution into it.
- Sniff some of the solution up 1 nostril at a time and let it run out of your nose. It might help to hold your other nostril closed with your finger as you sniff.
- Repeat these steps a few times to see if it helps.
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 saltwater solution and devices to help you rinse your nose.
Call a pharmacy or contact them online before going in person. You can get medicines delivered or ask someone to collect them.
Non-urgent advice: See a GP if your sense of smell does not go back to normal in a few weeks
They'll check for any obvious causes, such as sinusitis or nasal polyps.
They may refer you to a specialist for tests if they're not sure what the problem is.
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's gone off.
Page last reviewed: 11 December 2020
Next review due: 11 December 2023