A cold left me unable to smell or taste for TWO years… Would I ever enjoy the aroma of roast chicken or flowers again
Diana Appleyard lost her sense of taste and smell
Two years ago, I suffered from a very heavy cold. With a runny nose, itchy eyes, persistent cough and sore chest, my symptoms were nothing out of the ordinary. Yet when they disappeared, I was left with one that has had a profound and dispiriting effect on my life. I seemed to have permanently lost my sense of taste and smell.
After my cold, I kept thinking these senses would return, but as weeks turned into months, I was in despair. Would they ever come back
Until you lose them, you have no idea how much pleasure they bring to everyday life. A stressful day is soon forgotten by the aroma of a dinner of roast chicken and a glass of rioja. A walk in the woods is heightened by pine and wild garlic.
I love food but, with no sense of taste or smell, eating became a chore. I dreaded meals because I was able only to tell what I was eating by the texture and a faint taste of either sweet or sour.
More than 200,000 people in the UK suffer from anosmia, the clinical term for the condition. Forty per cent are affected by sinus and nasal diseases, the most common being sinusitis. Others suffer problems with the structure of the nose. Labour leader Ed Miliband had surgery last year to correct a deviated septum (the cartilage within the nose), which can be a cause.
A quarter of cases come from upper respiratory-tract infections (which include colds and flu) and 30 per cent are caused by brain damage following an accident. Perhaps most worryingly, a loss of taste and smell can indicate the onset of brain illnesses such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s, 20 years before other classic symptoms appear.
Like many with the condition, I soldiered on. For two years. Why Well, we tend to think the symptoms will disappear as mysteriously as they arrived, and there is no real pain to cope with.
I finally decided to seek medical advice because my life had become so colourless. My husband Ross – a great cook – said it was pointless preparing meals at night and I was snoring so loudly it was keeping both of us awake. I saw my GP and was referred to Dr Glenis Scadding, president of the British Society for Allergy and Clinical Immunology, who works at the Royal Ear, Nose and Throat Hospital in London.
Diana longed to smell a roast chicken again and went to seek professional help
Dr Scadding conducted a series of tests to see if my symptoms (now diagnosed as rhinitis, or inflammation of a nasal cavity) were linked to an allergy. I was screened for the common ones – animal hair, grass, dust mites – but all came back negative, which gave me a diagnosis of non-allergic rhinitis. This is inflammation of the sinuses not linked to any specific cause.
Dr Scadding says: ‘Generally, the cause of anosmia is inflammation of the nasal passages due to a virus. Normally people suffer a temporary loss of sense and taste, but in a small number these senses never return.’
The sensitive lining of the top of the nose becomes inflamed and in some patients polyps develop, which are gelatinous bags of fluid and inflammatory cells, blocking the nasal passage.
Smell is often
overlooked in terms of importance to our general feeling of wellbeing,
as well as the link that loss of smell and taste can have to the early
diagnosis of neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s
Dr Scadding says: ‘We smell by using nerves running to the olfactory cleft, above the nose. Molecules travel up the nose to meet these receptors, which then send impulses around our brain. The brain uses our memory of a smell for identification.’
These receptors are integral to our sense of taste when we eat – a large amount of the perception of flavour is due to the nerves and parts of the brain involved in smell.
‘We tend to think we smell with our nose, but the identity of a smell or taste is determined in the brain,’ says Dr Scadding, who explains my loss of smell isn’t simply as a result of the inflammation in my nose but because my brain has forgotten what things actually smell like.
It’s true – many substances, such as
coffee, now smell to me vaguely of tar and I often get an unpleasant
taste in my mouth when I take in smells I cannot identify. There is a
nasty condition called dysosmia, in which people can smell only a
rancid, sewer-type smell, irrespective of the context.
Dr Scadding says, is often overlooked in terms of importance to our
general feeling of wellbeing, as well as the link that loss of smell and
taste can have to the early diagnosis of neurodegenerative diseases
such as Parkinson’s.
After a tiny cold – which Diana managed to beat in a few days – she lost all sense of smell and could no longer enjoy her walks in the woods
‘There is also some interesting work being done with autistic children, and those born blind and deaf,’ she says. ‘As our sense of smell is created in the limbic area, the most primitive part of our brain, we are finding that by stimulating this sense – using strong-smelling natural products such as lavender – we can enhance communication and stimulate children’s brains into activity and the ability to make neurological connections.’
Using a nasal endoscope, which allows examination high into the nasal passages without having to use a CT scan, Dr Scadding could see my nasal passages were blocked and inflamed.
Snoring is one of my symptoms. As soon as my head goes back, I cannot breathe through my nose and my poor husband now sleeps in a different bedroom. This inflammation has blocked the nerve endings and created my smell-less world.
At first I was worried I might need an operation, but Dr Scadding said my condition was treatable using a salt-water nasal wash, a steroid spray to calm the lining of my nose and anti-histamines. It is time-consuming and I need to hang upside-down over the edge of my bed while my husband puts in the drops.
I need to hang upside-down over the edge of my bed while my husband puts in the drops
I am also instructed to re-educate my sense of smell by sniffing something strong as often as I can – cloves, pine, coffee and mint – to stimulate the dormant smell receptors in my brain.
A month later, and I begin to feel my sense of taste and smell is returning. It’s as if the world is gradually being restored to colour around me. I am still taken by surprise occasionally.
Recently, I stopped dead while walking through a forest because a recent tree-felling had created an almost overwhelming scent of pine.
Last week, my husband cooked a curry and I could take only tiny mouthfuls as the flavours were overpowering. We underestimate how much colour and interest smell and taste bring to our lives.
Dr Scadding says: ‘We need to investigate much more deeply into this fascinating sense and how it can be used to help brain-regeneration in a variety of conditions. Thankfully many causes, such as sinusitis and rhinitis, are treatable and should not be ignored.’
As for me, it is wonderful to wake up and sense again the joys of everyday life.