Anosmia Following Traumatic Brain Injury
Patient Information Booklet
Talis Consulting Limited
What is Anosmia?
Anosmia literally means “no smell” and refers to
sense of smell. This can be for a variety of
reasons, including infection, the actions of
noxious chemicals, and genetics however it is
also possible following a head injury.
There are two main forms of anosmia; a general
any smells, and specific anosmia, where one or a
few smells in particular can no longer be
perceived. Following a head injury general
anosmia is far more common, as specific
anosmia tends to arise from genetic causes, or
trauma directly to the receptors in the nose.
Why can a Head Injury Cause Anosmia?
Nerves from smell receptors in the nose
travel to the frontal lobes of the brain (the bit
processed in olfactory centres in the
orbitofrontal cortex (the lower portion of the
frontal lobes) and certain areas in the
temporal cortex (the areas on the side of
The nerve which carries information from
between the frontal lobes and the bony protrusions from the base of the skull.
This unfortunately makes the nerve vulnerable to damage from a blow to the
Anosmia can also occur from direct damage to the olfactory centres in the
orbitofrontal cortex, as this area of the brain may grind against the rough
surface of the front of your skull.
Another reason is that following a head injury bleeding in the front of the head
centres in the brain, meaning they cannot work properly. This form of anosmia
is usually temporary as when the bleeding subsides pressure upon the nerves
and brain is released.
Anosmia can occur from injury to any part of the head, however it is most
the front of the brain to grind against the rough front portion of the skull.
Anosmia is more common following more severe head injuries. However this
is not a completely clear-cut relationship. Anosmia can occur following very
slight head injuries in which the injured person may not have experienced any
loss of consciousness.
Why is Anosmia Important?
Unfortunately anosmia has received
less research attention than many other
problems which arise following a head
injury, this is largely due to the fact that
anosmia may not seem to have any real
impact on day-to-day functioning or for
treatment success. However the
importance of anosmia should not be
Anosmia is important because it is
the front of the brain. This means that it
may provide a clue as to where in the
brain damage has occurred.
This also means that anosmia usually
can arise following damage to the front
of the brain. For example problems with planning, problem solving,
attention or inhibition of behaviours. Therefore anosmia can sometimes
help guide clinicians towards what other problems to investigate.
However it is important to get your anosmia tested. Only a minority of
be important that your anosmia is diagnosed properly, as if it has arisen for
reasons other than your head injury then the correct course of action to
deal with it may be different.
Finally, anosmia is important because it impacts upon your sense of taste.
actually comes from smell receptors in
the nose, as the smell of the food or
drink in your mouth travels through the
back of your throat to the nose. This
means that our ability to taste and enjoy
food relies upon our sense of smell.
Weight Loss or Gain, and a Change in Appetite
Because anosmia reduces our ability to
taste foods, this can reduce enjoyment in
eating. This can lead to a lack of appetite
and weight loss. However some people
find they put on weight as they eat foods
higher in salt, sugar and fat to try and
gain some more pleasure out of their
It is important that you recognise that this may be a problem as any
In a minority of cases, people have reported that they do not gain the same
enjoyment out of sex following the onset of anosmia. This may not be as
surprising as it sounds, as numerous theories point to the importance of
pheromones and scent in physical attraction.
However sexual problems can occur for a variety of reasons following a
important that you recognise the true cause of any sexual problems so they
can be dealt with appropriately.
The majority of people do not even realise they suffer from anosmia, and
for those that do, most can adapt relatively well. However for a few people
the loss of their sense of smell can have a huge impact on them and cause
symptoms of depression. This may be especially true as coping with
difficulties can be harder when you are recovering from a head injury.
It is important to recognise if you are experiencing any depression, whether
depression from your GP.
What Treatments are Available for Anosmia?
Anosmia from a brain injury is not usually
considered treatable. The ability of anosmia
to improve may depend upon the nature of
the brain injury:
If the nerves and brain areas are under
then sensations may gradually recover as
swelling and bleeding subsides. This is
usually the mechanism in those cases of
anosmia which recover before three months.
However even if the nerves and brain cells
may recover. The nerves and brain cells
responsible for smell do show some capacity for regeneration following
damage; however these self-repair mechanisms may take time. It is not
uncommon for recovery to still be ongoing a year following your injury.
However it is rare to recover one’s sense of smell if it has not started to
return after one year’s time.
There are some rare reports that during the recovery process people suffer
smells, so that the smells of well-known things can seem odd or wrong.
Phantom odours are where you perceive smells which are not actually
there, they might be thought of as smell-illusions.
However these instances are very
rare, and their cause is not yet
fully understood. It is likely they
are due to the activity of a
partiall y-rec overe d
system, although why this should
happen is not clear. However in
those rare cases they have been
with the recovery process.
There may be several different self-repair processes in the brain which can
used can depend on the location of the damage, the type of damage, and
the severity of the damage.
This makes it very difficult to predict who will recover their sense of smell,
and when they might recover it.
What Can be Done to Help?
The following section describes a number of practical changes you may
want to implement to help you deal with any problems arising from
anosmia. You may want to try some or all of the following tips, depending
on you individual needs and problems.
Make eating fun again
If you find problems with your appetite and
weight loss or gain, then you might want to
consider different ways to make eating fun once
more. The texture of foods becomes very
important, particularly how you combine them.
You may want to mix cooked and raw vegetables
for a texture comparison, or eat a hot meal with a
cold salad for different temperature experiences.
Also remember that the sense of taste is actually
strong tasting foods (such as spicy Indian foods) can still cause
sensations upon the tongue, giving more of an impact to the foods you eat.
Install smoke detectors
Anosmia can have important implications for your
safety. With an impaired sense of smell you may not
be able to notice the smell of smoke or burning quite
so readily. Therefore you should install smoke
detectors in every room to reduce the risk of a fire
You might also want to consider switching from a
aware if you accidentally leave the gas on. Whether it
is a gas fire or cooker or other appliance.
Check labelling on chemical substances
Some substances such as glue or aerosols may require ventilation in order
to be safely used. When someone has anosmia they may be less aware
when a chemical they are using is noxious and harmful. Therefore check
the labels of anything using chemicals in order to make sure you’re not
breathing in harmful substances.
Check use-by dates on food
Without a sense of smell it can be very hard to tell when food has gone off.
Pay attention to any use-by labels and if in doubt get a friend or relative to
check whether the food is past its best. Because your sense of taste may
also be impaired it can be very difficult to know whether something you are
information about brain injury and
rehabilitation in the UK.
brain injury, with downloadable
leaflets about brain injury and its
h t t p : / / b r a i n i n j u r y t . o r g . a u / p o r t a l /
- A fact sheet devoted specifically to the problems of anosmia
following a brain injury.
h t t p : / / w w w . c a r d i f f . a c . u k / b i o s i / s t a f f i n f o / j a c o b / An o s m i a /
- A page of information about anosmia generally, and current
stances on the research on treatments for anosmia.
Talis Consulting Ltd. – 2009