How do I deal with a loss of smell or taste? Can MRI help?

Have you recently lost your sense of smell or taste, and you’re not sure why? Anosmia (absence of smell) and dysgeusia (altered taste) are incredibly common but often overlooked symptoms. Smell and taste are inextricably linked. The nose, the airflow and the olfactory bulb (a structure at the front of your brain that detects smell) enable the eater to interpret flavour.

MRI scans can provide essential information as to why these shifts in smell and taste senses may be occurring. In this blog post, we’ll explore the effects of anosmia and dysgeusia on patients’ lives and discuss the role of MRI in looking for causes.

Overview of Anosmia and its Symptoms

Anosmia is an impaired sense of smell, also referred to as olfactory dysfunction. It is generally an inability to detect odours, but anosmia can develop in other forms such as hyposmia (reduced ability to smell) or cachosmia (distorted or wrong perception of an odour).

Common consequences of anosmia include impaired quality of life, loss of appetite, decreased social activities and/or isolation, depression and/or anxiety. In extreme cases, anosmia may lead to more severe medical conditions like parosmia (a consistent distortion in all smells). In addition to being bothersome, an inability to detect odours has been linked to safety risks such as increased danger when operating machinery or encountering hazardous materials such as gas or smoke.

Common Causes of Loss of Smell and Taste

Loss of smell and taste can be caused by a variety of reasons, ranging from the common cold to more serious medical conditions. It can be brought on by injury or blockage in the nasal passage, viral infection such as Covid 19, neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s, head trauma or stroke, ageing effects to the olfactory pathways, and even sinus conditions like polyps. Other less common causes of temporary loss of smell could include medications that block receptors in the nose or pregnancy hormones reducing sensitivity. Regardless of why it occurs, it is important to consult with a doctor if you experience sudden or persistent change in your abilities to taste or smell food.

The role of MRI in diagnosis

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a powerful diagnostic tool to investigate causes of anosmia. The MRI can be used to locate any structural abnormalities in the olfactory bulbs and tracts, which create the neurological pathway needed for the ability to identify odours. After the MRI scan, your doctor can tailor your treatment options. Typically these treatments vary depending on what caused the loss of smell, but some common remedies are corticosteroid nasal sprays, antibiotics to address underlying infections, or topical creams or sprays for allergic inflammation. There is also something called smell training which can be useful. In more severe cases surgical intervention may be needed to restore sense of smell. Using MRI to look at the structure of your olfactory pathway can provide invaluable insight into why your sense of smell has been impaired and open doors for effective treatments.

Tips for Coping with Loss of Smell or Taste

Losing the sense of smell or taste can be a disheartening experience, but there are ways to cope with it. Firstly, it is important to take stock of one’s daily activities and find enjoyment in both small and bigger things. It is also essential to reach out to family and friends who understand and can provide emotional support. Additionally, seeking the help of counsellors or support groups may prove beneficial in learning more about anosmia and developing strategies for dealing with it.

Ensure that you have gas appliances serviced regularly and consider a natural gas detector. Smoke alarms should also be tested. Pay attention to use by dates on food, and if in doubt, throw it out! Taking care of oneself and engaging in helpful activities are key steps towards managing anosmia.


Loss of smell or taste can be an unsettling experience, with potential implications for our health and quality of life. Thankfully, there are treatment and coping strategies available to those affected by this condition. An MRI anosmia scan can evaluate the olfactory (smell) pathway and can identify any potentially treatable causes which will put you on the pathway to recovery.


Dr. Sarah Laporte

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