Smoking & Sense of Smell

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While you may know some of the most significant health-related threats of smoking—such as lung cancer or emphysema—you may not know other long-term effects, such as a reduced sense of smell, according to American Academy of Otolaryngology. This reduced sense of smell is the result of nerve damage that can prove permanent if smoking is not ceased.


Smokers are twice as likely to have a reduced sense of smell than their non-smoking counterparts, according to the American Council on Science and Health. Smoking can impair this basic sense in both young and older smokers.


When you breathe in, olfactory nerves located in the back of your nose transmit signals to your brain, signaling what you are smelling, according to Reader’s Digest. Over time, smoking damages these nerves, resulting in a reduced sense of smell. Smoking over a long time can permanently damage these receptors. Smoking does not just affect nerves in your nose, it also damages taste receptors, diluting your ability to smell or taste items.


Your sense of smell not only allows you to enjoy the taste of food and the whiff of a sweet-smelling perfume—it also is a protective and valuable reflex that can diminish due to smoking, according to the American Rhinologic Association. Losing your sense of smell can be dangerous because it diminishes your ability to notice harmful smells, such as a gas leak, fire or even spoiled food. Those with impaired sense of smell also are more likely to follow diets that are less healthy than their non-smoking counterparts, according to Reader’s Digest.


A physician’s examination can determine the degree to which you have lost your sense of smell due to smoking, according to the American Rhinologic Association. Your physician may insert an endoscope into the nasal passage in order to view the nose, allowing her to pinpoint areas of damage. In the cases of severe loss of smell, a computed tomography—also known as CAT or CT scan—may be used to identify damaged areas in the sinus cavities.


Quitting smoking is the first step to preventing further damage to your olfactory nerves, according to the Palo Alto Medical Foundation. If you are a long-term smoker, you may wish to use assistive devices or medications to increase your chances of quitting successfully. Examples of these include nicotine replacement gum or patches that are applied to the skin. Joining a smoking cessation support group or undergoing counseling also may help you to quit smoking. After 48 hours of quitting smoking, your nerve endings begin to regrow, according to the Palo Alto Medical Foundation.