ENTs Study Link Between Sense of Smell and Depression
Researchers have been intrigued for years about the link between the sense of smell and depression. Study upon study has shown that there is a clear link between olfactory dysfunction (problems with sense of smell) and depression.
Loss of smell
Anosmia is the medical term for loss of smell. A small percentage of the population is born with no sense of smell. Others lose their sense of smell as they age. After the age of 60, the sense of smell begins to decline. Nerves that process smell signals are located at the very top of the nose. These nerves detect chemical signals and then transmit them to the part of the brain that converts the signal into and odor that we “smell.” If the nerves are damaged, they don’t process correctly and the signal that goes to the brain is weakened. These nerves can be damaged by:
- Injury to the head or nose
- Nasal polyps
- Respiratory infections
- Colds and allergies
- Drugs (legal and illegal)
- Hormone problems
Loss of smell also leads to loss of taste. Chefs may live by the rule “the first taste is with the eyes” but scientists know that the sense of smell is how we identify foods and is a large factor in how we taste. The first taste is really with the nose!
ENTs study sense of smell and mood
ENTs and other disciplines have been intrigued for many years by the apparent link between mood and the ability to smell. It has also been a bit of a chicken and the egg problem.
Does depression cause the loss of smell or is depression the result of a loss of smell? A recent study by ENTs in South Korea indicates that people with either a diminished loss of smell or complete anosima were at increased risk for depression and suicide.
In 2014, researchers studying depression in women in Australia noted that in their study, women who were depressed had a decreased sense of smell. The olfactory dysfunction was eliminated when the depression was treated. While their sample was small, it did indicate that olfactory dysfunction could be a diagnostic tool.
Back in 2012, researchers determined that people with diminished or no sense of smell had difficulties in personal and romantic relationships. This may seem odd, but when you consider that a normally functioning olfactory system is able to differentiate between the odor of sweat from physical activity and the odor of sweat generated by fear you can see how sense of smell provides social clues.
Think you make have anosmia? See an ENT
If you think your sense of smell has been diminished, contact your ENT for an evaluation. An ENT team can perform scratch tests to evaluate your sense of smell.
If the loss is the result of allergies, infections, polyps or other reversible causes, your ENT can start you on a course of treatment to restore your sense of smell and this may even improve your mood!