Parkinson’s disease is a progressive disorder that primarily affects motor function—but increasingly, experts are calling attention to some of the disease’s non-motor symptoms, which they say are going undetected by patients and doctors alike.
One such symptom is hyposmia, or reduced sensitivity to smell. Hyposmia “is an under-recognized symptom, as it is not a common concern for doctors to ask about or for patients to report,” explains the Parkinson’s Foundation. However, that doesn’t mean it’s not prevalent. “Not all people with reduced sense of smell will go on to develop Parkinson’s, but most people with PD have some loss of their sense of smell,” the foundation adds. In fact, the Parkinson’s Foundation says that if you can’t smell three foods in particular, it’s time to get a Parkinson’s screening. Read on to find out which items may suggest a problem, and what to do if you notice your sense of smell fading.
Losing one’s sense of smell can be an alarming symptom, and can have several explanations ranging from COVID to a cold. But experts say that few people realize that reduced sensitivity or loss of smell is also associated with Parkinson’s, which is more typically recognized for its motor symptoms.
“A reduced sensitivity to odors (hyposmia) or a loss of smell (anosmia) is often an early symptom of Parkinson’s,” explains the American Parkinson Disease Association (APDA). “In fact, hyposmia and anosmia may be experienced months or even years before the traditional motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease emerge,” their experts add.
Because of the symptom’s subtlety, many people don’t notice a change in their sense of smell until years after the symptom first begins, experts say. “Looking back, you may realize you were losing your sense of smell several years before you received a Parkinson’s diagnosis,” says the Parkinson’s Foundation. That’s why it may be useful to choose several strong-smelling foods and actively test your ability to detect them. “If you or someone you know has trouble smelling foods like bananas, dill pickles or licorice, ask your doctor about Parkinson’s,” the foundation recommends.
Though there is no medication to treat a reduced sense of smell, some medical experts say that you may be able to regain some control over your olfactory functions by trying “smell training.” According to The New York Times, smell training is “involves sniffing several potent scents twice a day, sometimes for months, to stimulate and restore the olfactory system—or at the very least to help it function better.” Some studies have found that deep brain stimulation surgery may also have a positive effect on the symptom.
Additionally, those who notice hyposmia can take measures to ensure their safety, despite reduced olfactory function, says the European Parkinson’s Disease Association (EPDA). These may include seeking nutritional advice to compensate for reduced hunger associated with loss of smell, labeling food clearly to avoid accidentally eating spoiled items, and installing fire, smoke, and gas alarms in the home.
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All too often, non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease go unrecognized. Experts say that besides reduced sensitivity to smell, there are several other non-motor symptoms you should look out for.
According to the APDA, those with Parkinson’s may experience sleep problems, depression and anxiety, pain, psychosis, fatigue, sexual problems, vision loss, sweating, gastrointestinal issues, and more. If you’re experiencing any of these problems, contact a medical professional as soon as possible to get to the bottom of what’s causing your symptoms and either rule out or confirm a PD diagnosis.