Anosmia (the loss of smell and taste) is one of the most common symptoms of Covid-19. But it also happens to be a common symptom of traumatic brain injury. In this episode of Brain Injury Insider, host Michael Kaplen discusses what causes loss of taste and smell in survivors of head trauma, and how this can be better clinically diagnosed.
The loss of smell and taste often happens following a traumatic brain injury.
It is also one of the first signs of the covid-19 virus.
The loss of smell is called anosmia.
The loss of smell will also impair the sense of taste.
It happens as a result of a traumatic brain injury because the nerve that controls smell, the olfactory nerve, runs behind the ear very close to the surface, and is very susceptible to injury as a result of trauma.
Scientists believe that it happens in covid-19 patients because the nerve cells in the upper nasal cavity become inflamed or damaged.
But unfortunately, when neurologists, or other medical personnel test gross neurological function, they don't test the cranial nerve that controls the sense of smell, the olfactory nerve.
This nerve is not tested unless a patient makes specific complaints.
But many times patients are not even asked whether or not they are suffering from a loss of taste and smell, and sometimes they don't even realize that these problems are related to a traumatic event.
So they remain silent, and they continue to suffer in silence, and the nerve is not tested.
Whatever the cause though, losing your sense of taste and smell can have serious consequences.
Most people have never contemplated what life would be like without their sense of smell.
Waking up in the morning and smelling coffee, perfume, other sweet smells with good memories, or even bad smells that protect us.
Smell, taste, and their loss, have important negative emotional, safety, and health consequences to the individual.
This loss can dramatically affect a person's safety, such as the inability to smell noxious odors such as gas, the inability to taste or smell spoiled food. It can impair a person's appetite, it can cause an increased consumption
of salts or sugar. It can cause unintended weight gain or weight loss, and affect a person's personal hygiene. And it could also impair their emotional relationships.
For many, it can lead to depression.
There are tests available such as the University of Pennsylvania smell identification test, which uses 40 scratch and sniff items to identify losses, and MRI studies to identify damage to the nerve.
More attention and research must be devoted to this serious injury caused by all degrees of brain trauma, whether classified as moderate, mild, or severe. And from other causes such as the covid-19 virus.
The consequences of a anosmia are devastating, and can even be permanent.
It's a public health problem that can no longer be ignored.