Your olfactory nerve is responsible for your sense of smell and your ability to detect the flavors of food and drinks you consume. Damage to your olfactory nerve can be debilitating and the condition affects many people world-wide.
How Many People Have Olfactory Dysfunction?
Approximately 1 percent of people younger than 65 have olfactory dysfunction, and more than 50 percent of people older than 65 do. The degree of dysfunction and damage varies widely from person to person.
What Are the Affects of Olfactory Nerve Damage?
Damage to the olfactory nerve can rob a person of most or all of his senses of smell and taste. This can adversely affect the desire to eat, as well as decrease the person's ability to detect environmental hazards such as smoke from a fire or spoiled food.
What Causes Olfactory Nerve Damage?
Most cases of severe damage to the olfactory nerve are caused by a prior upper respiratory tract infection, head trauma or nasal and paranasal sinus disease. Other cases are secondary to allergies, polyps and tumors that grow on or near the nerve, or inflammation of the nerve tissue.
Managing allergies can alleviate the symptoms of olfactory dysfunction that are secondary to allergies. A brief course of steroids can reduce symptoms of dysfunction caused by inflammation of the nerve tissues.
Surgical Repair and Stem Cells
Surgical repair can help restore functionality to nerve tissue obstructed by polyps or tumors, but usually cannot help in cases involving a severed nerve. Stem cell treatments have shown promise in the regrowth of new olfactory nerve tissue.