A recent survey of teens and young adults found that more than half would be more willing to sacrifice their sense of smell than they would a tech-driven possession such as a smartphone or computer. Underappreciated as it may be, however, your sense of smell may be more important than you realize for your well-being and quality of life.

Without it, of course, you'd lose the pleasure of all kinds of inviting aromas, from fresh-baked apple pie to evergreen trees. But perhaps more concerning, a diminished sense of smell can also interfere with one's ability to perceive flavors in food. As a result, you may undereat, overeat, or consume more high-salt and high-sugar foods than normal—in an effort to make meals taste more appealing. Those dietary changes can result in unhealthy weight loss or gain, and/or difficulty keeping blood pressure or blood sugar under control.

In addition, you may miss out on important nutrients if a poor sense of smell leads you to avoid fruits, vegetables, and other healthy foods. Having an impaired sense of smell can also create safety problems, because it can hamper your ability to detect food that's spoiled or the smoke of a fire.  

What's Behind a Poor Sense of Smell

If you've noticed that your sense of smell isn't quite up to snuff, it's helpful to pinpoint which of a variety of factors may be to blame. Congestion due to a cold or allergies and certain types of medications (such as some antihistamines and antibiotics) may temporarily dull your ability to sense odors. Chronic sinus infections, nasal polyps, and illnesses such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease can affect your sense of smell, too.

Your olfactory abilities also decline gradually with age. In a recent University of Chicago study of 3,005 adults, ages 57 to 85, one in five had difficulty making out smells. It may be that scent-detecting nerves within the nose lose some functioning over the years or that brain areas involved with the processing of sensory information become less able to distinguish the differences between odors. 

Coping With a Poor Sense of Smell

If you notice that your sense of smell is waning, see your doctor so that he or she can check for any medical reasons. And take deliberate steps to ensure that you eat well: Adding a variety of colorful foods with different textures, such as crunchy celery, juicy orange slices, and soft baked sweet potatoes, to your plate may help. So can pumping up the flavor quotient of meals with garlic, mustard, a spritz of citrus, ginger, or hot peppers. You can also add variety by having hot and cold foods at the same meal.

Meanwhile, make sure a dulled sense of smell doesn’t create safety problems in your home. Keep fresh batteries in your smoke detectors and install a gas detector if your heater or appliances run on propane. Toss leftovers from your refrigerator after three to four days.