Anosmia or Loss of Smell from Brain Injury

Question: 

My friend had a brain hemorrhage from a blow to the head 10 years ago and has completely lost his sense of smell. Apparently, the part of his brain that controls his sense of smell was permanently damaged.

Is it possible that even though the brain does not recognize or register any kind of smell, the effects of that smell still be experienced? For example, even though he can’t smell coffee or lavender, could he still get stimulating effects of the coffee aroma or the relaxation effects of the scent of lavender?

Answer: 

Smell loss following traumatic brain injury is often overlooked as doctors tend not bother to ask about or test for loss or change in smell — or taste for that matter. Many times, people with brain injury first report changes in taste when they lose or notice a change in their ability to smell. Typically, complete loss of smell — or what is called anosmia — will be quite noticeable to a person following a traumatic brain injury and may affect numerous aspects of their life. Unfortunately, there is no good treatment cure for post-traumatic anosmia. Typically, if a person doesn’t regain his ability to smell six months after the injury, the loss will likely be permanent.

Because of the complex mechanisms involved in olfaction — a person’s sense of smell — it’s difficult to determine the reason for the loss. Problems with smell loss can result from craniofacial trauma, specifically damage to nasal passage ways, shearing injury of the olfactory nerve, or injury to primary or secondary smell centers in the frontotemporal regions of the brain. There are also other non-traumatic causes for smell impairment including Alzheimer’s disease and smoking, to name just two. This is why it’s important for people with this type of problem to seek out appropriate evaluation by a doctor familiar with post-traumatic smell loss.

If your friend is truly anosmic, that is, he has totally lost his sense of smell, then he would probably not recognize or register any kind of smell since the olfactory nerve is responsible for scent recognition. Therefore, your friend would not benefit from smelling any substance. That said, we don’t have a lot of research on this. Some people have anecdotally described “blind smell” similar to blind sight (a phenomenon in which people who are perceptually blind in a certain area of their visual field demonstrate some response to visual stimuli), and it wouldn’t hurt for your friend to try and experiment with smells.

 

Posted on BrainLine September 20, 2010. Reviewed July 25, 2018.

Comments (282)

Please remember, we are not able to give medical or legal advice. If you have medical concerns, please consult your doctor. All posted comments are the views and opinions of the poster only.

has anybody tried stem cell therapy for anosmia, i think it is in still under development? i
have unilateral anosmia since 2014 after mild tbi.

there is also platlet rich plasma therapy , has somebody tried this for anosmia after tbi?

thanks all

has someone tried the stem cell therapy I think it is still in development stage. I have unilateral anosmia since last 6 years when i had suffered mild concussion while coming from office. also there is platelet rich plasma treatment has this anybody tried?

Wow, I'm so "glad" to see so many other people in my situation. I was hit in a crosswalk in June 2019, had the brain bleed and surgery, and now my beloved coffee smells like dead fish and the sense of taste is a little strange, fresh spinach now reminds me of motor oil. Hearing that its probably permanent isn't great, but I am grateful to be alive!

On December 30th I got hit by car and I was rushed to the hospital and I had a brain bleed. After 2 days I was released and they had me on anti seizure medication and I went through all my proper tests like ct scans, mri’s eeg/emg. And now I lost my sense of smell at the end of January and I’m afraid it’s going to be permanent is there anything I can do or is there hope for me.

I was hit by a car while walking in a crosswalk 4 years ago. I’ve suffered a severe TBI in the right frontal/temporal lobes and can no longer smell. I can taste find for the most part, however I can’t taste the difference between brown sodas and some days my taste is off, everything is bland. I get whiffs of various smells randomly and sometimes feel I’m convincing myself i can smell, like it’s in my memory. Does anyone else experience this?

Hi! I can taste most things but do not have sense of smell. I had a TBI on December 15 2019 and still hoping to get my sense of smell back. I have sensations of smell: strong hospital smell, weak hospital smell and on the fifth month a sweeter hospital smell...I made a smell box with 6 doterra oils: Clove, rose, eucalyptus, peppermint, lemon, and breath blend. I can sense menthol feelings in my nose. I think that is great you get whiffs of smell and I am hoping that happens to me. Thanks for your information.

Interstingly enough, I too was hit by a car while crossing the street 4 years ago, suffered a TBI, and now have anosmia, and have completely lost my sense of smell. We have had some of the exact same reactions in that random smells with pop up without them actually being there. For example, occasionally I may smell burnt popcorn, or a strong smell of rubber, or even a floral fragrance, etc. of some kind without any of these items actually being present no where near me. I've also had the days where some food tastes bland, and other days where I am unable to eat a meal due to the overwhelming taste of salt or spices, however I am thankful to still have my sense of taste. It's definitely been a learning process, but you take each day as it comes.

July of 2019 my husband fell and hit his head on the concrete crack the skull fractures in four different places cannot smell taste feel heat to a skin it is taking us 6 months to get into a traumatic brain injury doctor our whole lives have changed in a matter of minutes he's 49 years old he's depressed stressed can't taste his food he says he keeps smelling a chemical smell and it's driving me nuts we see the doctor on Thursday I'm just wondering if there's any therapy or anything that will help him get his taste and smell back I think this is going to affect him for the rest of his life

I'd like to note one positive aspect of my recent brain injury. I've been an alcoholic for well over a decade now but since my motorcycle accident (Yep. Related.) 4 and a half months ago I've drank less than what I would've drunk in a week's time prior to my accident. The craving is still there but it's difficult to enjoy a bottle of Jack when it smells exactly the same as my deodorant, soap, air freshener, cologne and about 90% of everything else I use on a daily basis.
Some foods are kinda yuck now but that's a small price to pay to have my life back in order.

I fell on a night out in 2002 and struck my head on a curb. I fractured my skull and suffered an extra dural haematoma. I underwent emergency life saving surgery, and since then have zero sense of smell. I still taste sweet and sour foods, and still enjoy eating. Spicy food is obviously still spicy and still burns!!

I don’t often think about it anymore, but if it were possible, I’d love to undergo some treatment to try and get my sense of smell back.

I cannot smell due to traumatic brain Injury 9 months ago. What can I do to get my ability to smell again.

I have neck tissue damage so I just started working with acupuncture. I didn’t realize the taste and smell issues were apparent until end of third year.

I also loss my sense of smell on May.14 2019 after being struck my a vehicle and since then have not regained the sense of smell back..I hope it will come back

Yes brother, likewise

Hi myself megha... Three months ago my friend had A brain injury... And he can't able to smell and taste anything... Can u suggest me what should I do to make him well... Regarding his taste and smell... Plz
Need ur help

jus gotta wait and see, mate. I had brain bleed from a concussion and my smell gone by 99%... all specialists and internet says the same thing... if it doesnt come back in a year... it’s goneskies mate. if it doesnt come back by 6 months, then it’s highly likely it will not come back in a year.....quite hard to handle sometimes...like they say - u dont know what u got til its gone...

My mother has not been able to smell anything for almost 15 years. Is there still a way to regain her sense of smell?

In 1998 I had a car accident, The air bag hit me at 254 mph. I remember the impact, the EMT's. And the fact that they messed with my neck. I remember coming to at the hospital, family there, don't remember all the tests. Just remember that I got a ticket for inattentive driving during an ice storm. Was half a mile from home as well as work. Air bag in car was set at 257 mph. If not for head rest, I would not be here. I had enough sense about me after impact to open car door. The car was totally destroyed. Went over embankment then nose dived into railroad tracks. After exams, I was sent home. Piss! Poor help!! Not only for car insurance but from job, as well as health. I don't, still can't remember alot from it. But do remember that after it was over a few days later, could remember lots of Dr. Appointment's, lost my job, sense of smell, taste, hearing! After 6 years got marriage ended. So just dealing with lost of taste and now with a Extremely sensitive sense of smell which gets to the point it can make me physically sick. Air freshner, perfume, deodorant, I have to wear a mask to go shopping. I can't stand the smell of food cooking!! I don't eat much because I can't taste it, it's a waste of time. I eat because I have to. Most of the time it stays down.

My brain tumor was undiagnosed (after 2 surgeries) my local small my hospital missed it for 4 Yeare.
Hard to cook or walk around with nausea and no smell. Who wants to cook when your grossed out by looking wheyerlrss touching the food makes me sick. Hoping to hear your improved?

Approximately 2.5 months ago I started suffering EXTREME allergies, I can't taste or smell. I also got a bump on my forehead.
On the rare occasion I can smell something, however, I can't taste anything.
I am wanting to eat anything that has texture to give me mouth feel, even though I can't taste it. At first I was losing weight, now I am trying to replace the taste of food with the texture of food. Now I am gaining weight. I want to cook foods that I would Love to eat. Today I made Spaetzle and Schnitzel. The issue is, my husband is vegetarian and I can't gauge the odour of what I am cooking.
This is a huge issue!
I can't tell if milk is bad, or my house is burning down!!

I feel your pain. I stood up got light headed, last thing I remembered TBI, 7 staples in the back of my head. My ears ring loudly and constantly so sleep is fun and I can’t smell anything at all. People do not realize what it’s like. I keep milk 5 days before I throw out. I keep mints in my pocket because I can’t tell if my breath stinks. Food is only something that is necessary. I use a lot of hot sauce. Lost 20 lbs so far. I have a few more months and I’ll be at the 6 month point or the point of no return of smell. I’ll take the ringing ears but please let me smell again. It is very dangerous. I’ll have to try the texture food thing to. The sad part is The doctor knew I was having issues with my blood pressure bottoming out and waited till my accident to lower my blood pressure medication. Now I don’t pass out anymore b

I had a massive head injury in 2001 and all I had was a metal taste and smell.. Now last December I was taking neurotins and I regained my taste and smell. I was able after so many yrs to know the difference of sour sweet but couldn't distinguish the actual flavor. I wasn't sure how I got my sense back until I read about the gabapentin. I'm so grateful for this web site... thank u..

pls confirm the did u prescribed by doctor for same or have tried by ur self.

I have no sense of smell, close to 5 years now. Last good smell was a scrambled egg sandwich, but before Losing my smeller, I smelled something like a death smell, I can not express how awful it was. My husband just put an ammonia strip under my nose, I did not smell it but it felt like it burned all the way up my right nostril to my brain. Didn’t like that feeling at all, my left nostril didn’t do a thing. I do cry sometimes because I can’t smell anymore.

I also lost my sense of smell due to a brain injury 4 years ago. Sometimes I wish I could still smell as well, but then I think of the senses that I still have. If you had to lose one, which would you choose ya know? Between smell, sight, taste, and hearing, I think smell is the least important haha

On July 5th 2019 I suffer a brutal assault, I woke up at the hospital after being in a coma for one day, I spend a whole week in the hospital getting CAT scan twice a day, to check on my swelling and bleeding of the brain. When I got released from the hospital I noticed I was having a hard time smelling and tasting. At this time I started to investigate, I talked to the doctor, and they told me that it was very common for people who suffer brain injuries To louse their sense of smell, it has been life changing for me so I understand how you feel. I get really sad and depressed, thinking that I'm going to go the rest of my life not being able to enjoy smelling anything. And tasting food.

Suffered a brain hemmorage almost 11 years ago from a car accident. I remember the first month after the accident always smelling something like Pinesol. A week later that smell was gone and have never been able to smell again. On a rare occasion though I do get a sweet smell that last a few seconds.

I was involved in a serious accident 2 yrs ago and have anosmia now. It is devastating in ways I can’t describe.
But like you .. i have just recently been getting these faint but sweet, floral smells for a second, and then gone. It is the only thing that I’ve smelled. It has brought me hope that smell May return (!!!)..... but based on what you are describing, maybe it’s just a pleasant “side effect” and not a sign of improvement. Have you had any more smells or other improvements or updates from ur Docs?

Hi, I’ve got a brain tumour that’s growing on top of the nasal nerves. I have similar symptoms to the head trauma posts. Phantom smells. Taste change which can be extreme. Had these symptoms for 2 or more years. They are intimitent. It can return to a kind of normal or a new normal. It was diagnosed 3 weeks ago and I’m having the tumour removed in 3 days. The doctor I spoke with today suggested that the removal process will completely damage what’s left of the nerves linked to smell. Is there anyone out there who has experienced this procedure and lived with the damage to smell and taste?

I have had 2 brain sugeries(not near my smell regions) and was ok for a few yrs, my local hospital radiologist missed growth for Yrs!! Knowing I had brain cancer?! I only knew when lost my smell & cle clinic said it regrew in 2016& it was 2019! Go to specialist!! It may come back, keep praying for that. Keep me updated on progress. God be with you on surgery day. Love a survivor . Now I have to do chemo & radiation for yrs

I'm almost a year into recovery from a brain tumor removal that was sitting on my olfactory nerve. In the beginning I had phantom smells; psychological I think. Since then, I've had absolutely no smell or taste whatsoever. I'm still hopeful.

Hello! I’ve noticed several folks on this site who have phantosmia along with their anosmia. After my head injury 9 years ago, I became anosmic. Several months into my recovery, I developed phantosmia (phantom smell/taste- most often noxious). Mine was 24/7 and greatly affected the quality of my life. Tried everything, but nothing could take the smell/taste of burned rubber, metal, cigarettes, rotting flesh, and soap away. My neurologist decided to try putting me on gabapentin (neurontin), to see whether that would interrupt the incorrect electrical signals from the brain that he felt was causing this. The initial dose had no effect. He had me slowly increase the dose to the highest “safe” dosage, and it worked! Thankfully, I tolerated the drug well, and it was as though I had my life back. Obviously I did not want to have to take six pills each day for the rest of my life, so I was hopeful when he speculated that he felt the disorder would resolve within a couple years. It took two years, but I was finally able to stop taking gabapentin. I have no remaining sign of phantosmia UNLESS I am way overtired (like poor sleep for days) and stressed- in such rare instances, I have noticed glimmers of phantosmia creep back, but disappear as soon as I get more sleep and relax! Hope this helps!

I was so relieved to read you at least got rid of the obnoxious smells. I cannot imagine what your life was like during that time, most likely a nightmare. I do hope in the future there will be a way for you to regain your normal sense of smell.

I had a seizure in December of last year and fell down the stairs at my apartment and hit my head on the concrete ground. I was lucky one of my neighbors heard me outside and called for help. I got a blood clot in my brain and they had to operate it and drain the blood out of my head and there was a lot of bruising. I lost my smell too but it took some time before I even realized it. I could still taste things all right though. Maybe 3 or 4 months after my accident I realized I could smell certain things like car exhaust and it's stronger and nauseating than I remember it ever being before. I also started to notice some minor differences in taste like coffee and it tastes different now and I can smell it a little but it has a different smell to it than before. It's been a few months shy of a year since my accident and I still can only smell certain things but nothing smells the same anymore. I guess since it's been this long I may never regain my smell like before but a Dr did tell me though that the cells responsible for smell can regenerate themselves...

Basically the same mine has been about 10 years can smell pungent things like garlic or onions never talked to anyone about it

I’ve had anosmia for 29 years due to a head injury. I sometimes get what I call ‘phantom smells’. I always wonder if it has to do with an actual aroma that is not noticeable to others or a psychosomatic trigger. A perceived unpleasantness, since mine are hard to describe. Sometimes it might be very organic like the smell of healthy tissue that a surgeon might experience. Kind of weird but not bad. Other times it/they can seem almost acid-meets-sour aerosol. Example: my grandkids and dirty diapers. I don’t change them, but I know they’re around until they go to the dumpster outside. Odd...
Thanks for letting me vent

Ive had those phantom smells, the same as yours, usually organic. usually last a few minutes.

I fell down the stairs 1 1/2 months ago. I have a smell of an astringent odor 24/7. I can taste and smell other things...but this odor stays with me. It is not unpleasant but won’t go away. I am told this condition can be permanent.

Same with me.

Had a blow to the head about a month ago and lost my sense of smell and taste. Now I’m smelling an almost soapy scent and tasting the same. It’s as if I have a bit of liquid soap in my mouth. It’s been this way for a week. My hope is that is that this this is a precurser to a full return of my senses. <crossing fingers>

I fell off a ladder in May 2019 trying to get a broken branch off a tree after a bad storm. Was hospitalized with 3 brain bleeds that after a month were completely gone but lost my sense of taste and smell. I do have a very odd smell that i can only describe as a very dark roast oily coffee smell and a grease like smell, like grease from a funnel cake vendor. It's awful and as far as taste, everything tastes like nothing.

I Too had a head injury back in June 2018 and since about that time I noticed a dishy-soap taste. I also smell/ taste sulfur in everything I attempt to eat. I thought it was the new home I moved into.... but no one else complains about it like I do. It’s driving me nuts! I am certain now it’s from the concussion. So what now? Back to the E.R.? I’ll go crazy if this is permanent.

I had a head injury on 6/21/18. Since then, I think I have parosmia. I have done CT scan, MRI, been seen by ENT doctor and been seen by a neurologist. Nothing really worked. ENT doctor said if my smell does not come back in two years, chances are it's not coming back. The neurologist read a medical trial done in Taiwan and told me to try taking Zinc 10mg 3 times a day. I am also taking coconut oil, alpha-lipoic acid, and folic acid to improve nerve regeneration. My family doctor also told me to keep using Flonase . I have doing all the above for over a month. So far no sign of improvement. One huge mistake I made about one month after my injury was drinking a little bit of alcohol. It actually worsen my loss of smell. Every day I regret it. I have quit alcohol completed since then.

Wow, I’m getting the same taste-soapy, but mild. My concussion was last year at Thanksgiving. A lot of foods don’t taste the same. If I peel an orange I can smell the citrus. I haven’t been able to smell much more.

I’m wondering if there is an air quality monitor that is small enough to carry with you? My daughter lost her smell years ago and I am worried she would not be able to tell if there is gas smell or fire or anything harmful around her. This worries me.

hello I was hit on the head nearly 6 months ago with a wheel brace and suffered a sub arachnoid brain heamorrage and then as I fell to the floor I fractured my skull also,I havnt been able to smell or taste since but sometimes I get a strange chemical smell that I can't quite put my finger on I suspect reading these comments il never gain it back I worry about the safety aspect of it like fuel leaks or house fire,I'm 39 now but I'm worried il never smell cut grass again my daughter's hair or the perfume my wife used to wear 18 years ago when we 1st met my docs have said il gain it back within 6 months but I'm only 2 days away from the 6 month period,but don't get me wrong I'm lucky to still have my sight hearing a speech as the docs said I'm very lucky but I sincerely hope it returns and you guys also regain some.thanks

I totally get where you are at and have same thing! The weird chemical type smell comes and goes.. this is so frustrating and you hold hope but after 6 months it becomes emotionally challenging.. if you get any answers please let me know!

Yes. I was wanting to know this. I hit the back of my head hard and so I went on with my life but I had lost my sense of smell if you can help me

In May 2015, one day I felt like my nose was a little pit congested while talking , I went to ENT dr ,he said it is allergy and prescribed me only nasal spray after few months I started losing my smell ability gradually ,by 2017 I could not smell anything 100% for one year. Eventhough I was taking antihistamines, steroids nasal spray and singulear because I developed as an asthmatic patient. after that suddenly I got my smelling ability back for two months in March ,April 2018, I do not know what happened. Now, I smell only very strong smells and sometimes for 10 secs only I can smell everything completely ,and actually I came here looking for an answer for it

Now I am using nasal salt washing with singulear only.

I had no trauma or accident to the head. I woke up one morning and thought it was weird I couldn’t smell my breakfast..shrugged it off thinking maybe sinuses, (which I never have allergy issues or anything) 2 weeks passed maybe I was sick with respiratory issues or something.. couple months passes still nothing.... checked with my doctor and was sent to ENT. no polyps, blockage or anything. They did a scan of my head and found a pituitary tumor... my olfactory nerves aren’t damaged or anything perfectly fine and some Neuros say the tumor can cause it but some say it’s not related.... I have phantom smells all the time like pizza but I also get an ammonia smell that’s terrible. I’m also having other health issues going on idk if it’s related or not... numb tongue, migraines, left sided body numbness, burning, pain... my fingers/hands and toes turn a pale bluish color and are ice cold at times... I now have an overactive pancreas, walking up stairs now is a struggle I get short of breath, tight chest, short of breath, nausea, and dizzy. ALLLL of this started after losing my smell.... there probably more I didn’t mention that’s going on but no one can tell me what is causing any of this.... they want to send me to Vanderbilt and get check for any type of nerve damage throughout the body and other brain issues but I don’t understand if my olfactory is fine and no trauma why I can’t smell... it’s now been 6 years of no smelling and 2 gradually since then more things have came along and still continues to... idk what to do....

Have you been investigated for auto-immune disorders such as Sjogren syndrome? Sjogrens can cause many of the symptoms that you describe.

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