These Common Medications Can Alter Your Sense Of Smell

The smell of your favorite roses suddenly fills your nose with the odor of garbage. You asked your family to check them for you, but they said everything was fine. Now, you're starting to worry that something might be wrong with your sniffer. 

According to the Cleveland Clinic, dysosmia is a change in your smelling ability. It comes in two types: parosmia (change in familiar smell) and phantosmia (smells that aren't there). These changes in odor can be pretty overwhelming. For example, you might smell cigarette smoke or gasoline when there is none. It can also make familiar smells like your favorite perfume suddenly smell like ammonia. Most of the time, dysosmia isn't permanent and will disappear after the underlying cause is cleared up. However, severe cases can leave you with parosmia or phantosmia for life. 

While you've probably heard dysosmia associated with COVID-19, it can also come from common medications like atorvastatin, amlodipine, and erythromycin. Let's bulk up on your knowledge about these drugs so you can talk to your doctor about dysosmia and find if another drug might be a better alternative.

Atorvastatin can alter your sense of smell

You've probably heard atorvastatin referred to more by its brand names, Lipitor or Atorvaliq. Regardless of the name, it's prescribed — along with proper diet — to help those with high cholesterol lower their numbers. High cholesterol is when your total cholesterol is over 200, notes the Cleveland Clinic. According to the Mayo Clinic, this medication is known as a statin and works by blocking enzymes the body uses for making cholesterol. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also notes that these drugs help the liver remove low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol from the blood.

In addition to altering your sense of smell, typical side effects include nausea, headache, sore throat, constipation, and diarrhea, per NHS. It causes muscle pain and weakness, skin rash, and cough in severe cases. These severe side effects are associated with liver, lung, and kidney problems and require a trip to your doctor ASAP. It's also recommended to keep drinking alcohol to a minimum to help with liver issues.

This type of medication is typically given as a pill that's taken by mouth once a day. It's also recommended to take it around the same time per day, according to Medline Plus. Atorvastatin can be used by adults as well as those 10-17 years of age with familial heterozygous hypercholesterolemia, which means their body has an inherited problem with removing cholesterol from the blood.

Amlodipine can also affect your sense of smell

Norvasc is the brand name of amlodipine, a blood pressure-lowering medication used to treat high blood pressure (hypertension). Your blood pressure is the force at which blood is pushed against the walls of your arteries, explains the American Heart Association. Known as the silent killer, hypertension can damage the tissues of the arteries and make your heart and vessels work harder to push blood through.

Amlodipine lowers your blood pressure by stopping calcium from entering the arteries and making them squeeze harder. The relaxed blood vessels allow the blood to pass through easily, preventing strokes, heart attacks, and kidney problems, according to WebMD. The Mayo Clinic also notes that amlodipine can work to relieve chronic angina (chest pain) and lower the risk of hospitalization in those with coronary artery disease. 

Common side effects include headache, dizziness, malaise, nausea, and flushing. Change in your sense of smell is a less frequent side effect. Medsafe states that it's important to tell your doctor about changes in heartbeat, swelling, tingling in hands, and joint pain. Chest pain and shortness of breath require immediate medical attention.

Erythromycin has effects on your sense of smell, too

Statins and calcium channel blockers aren't the only ones that can leave you with a bad smell in your nose; the antibiotic erythromycin is also an offender. This medication combats the bacteria causing sinusitis, pneumonia, upper respiratory infections, skin infections, and pertussis, states the Mayo Clinic. Erythromycin falls under the classification of macrolide antibiotics. According to StatPearls, these antibiotics work by inhibiting the protein synthesis within the bacteria so your body can flush them out quickly.

Like many of its medication cousins, erythromycin has a list of possible side effects. Common side effects that happen to more than 1 in 100 people include nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, loss of appetite, and bloating, per NHS. While it's not standard, smell and taste can be altered by this antibiotic. notes that heightened, decreased, and unpleasant odor smells are the most common alternations felt by users.

Additionally, a 2021 study in Scientific Reports found the risk was higher for smell-related disorders in older people. The report also stated a link between smell and taste disorders and the suppression of zinc absorption. A reduction in salivation could also result in smell disorders and dysosmia.

What to do if medication is affecting your sense of smell

When you are experiencing smell disturbances from your medication, talk with your healthcare professional. The severity of the disturbance may require a change in medication since smell and taste disturbances can harm the quality of life, according to Scientific Reports.

If the benefits of the medication outweigh the potential side effects, it may be essential to try supplementation of zinc since alteration in zinc absorption can cause some types of smell disturbances, per MedLink Neurology. They also note that a dose reduction of the offending drug might be enough to alleviate dysosmia. In most cases, reducing or stopping the medication results in the return of normal olfactory function.

When the dysosmia persists after the offensive drug is stopped or reduced, smell-retraining therapy may be an option. According to ENT Health, this requires the use of different smells in the nose to help stimulate the olfactory system. This therapy requires the patient to sniff four common scents, including floral, fruity, spicy, and resinous, for 10 to 20 seconds. The hope is that sniffing these smells a few times a day can regrow nerves and stimulate the brain to recognize and remember the smells.