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Ear, Nose, and Throat Disorders

Smell cigarrette smoke-loss of smell-flu

09/09/2009

Question:

Several months ago, I came down with a bad case of the flu that lasted about one week. I was given antiboitic and was better in no time. However, with this I did experience loss of smell. Recently I have started smelling a faint odor similar to cigarrette smoke. Is this related to the flu and loss of smell? Or what could it be attributed to?

Answer:

Sometimes the virus that causes the flu can cause a loss of smell that persists after the nasal congestion resolves.  This is due to the virus directly infecting the nerve endings high in the nose that enable us to smell.  This degeneration will sometimes cause a phantom odor, or an odor sensation that occurs without external odorant stimulation.  This phantom odor is often described as a burnt smell. 

Over time it is possible that the phantom odor will resolve, and your sense of smell improve.  This is dependent in part on how much of your smell you have actually lost.  I suggest further evaluation by an otolaryngologist to rule out any other possible problems.   

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Response by:

Allen M Seiden, MD Allen M Seiden, MD
Professor of Otolaryngology, Director of Division of Rhinology and Sinus Disorders, Director of University Taste and Smell Center, Director of University Sinus and Allergy
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati