Sunday, April 18, 2010

My Cookie Doesn't Have Cookie Flavor

I ate the cookie, chewing thoughtfully. Rolling my tongue around the texture and detecting flavors. The flavors were off. "This is supposed to be sweet, right?" I asked G.  He had the same cookie, and he confirmed that yes, it IS sweet.  My cookie was not sweet, not to me anyway. I could taste the earthiness of chocolate, but not much else. Other things tasted a bit odd, too. All the sweet had been knocked out of me. Fruit tasted weird. Soup tasted weird.  It was sort of an adventure to see what things tasted like without sweet.

Because taste and smell are heavily dependent upon each other, I started to wonder about what things I couldn't smell. The old dairy house we live in has gas lines. What happened if I couldn't smell a gas leak? I was always tired, so feeling like I had to lie down and take a nap wouldn't have been out of the ordinary.

This study confirms what I had learned in the first week after my injury.

“The study clearly demonstrates that olfactory deficits can occur in mild traumatic brain injury patients as well as in moderate and severe TBI patients,” says study co-author and neuropsychologist Maurice Ptito, a professor at the Université de Montréal School of Optometry. “We also found that patients with a frontal lesion were more likely to show olfactory dysfunctions.”

To reach the conclusion, the research team recruited 49 people with TBI (73 percent male with a median age of 43) who completed a questionnaire and underwent two smell tests to measure their olfactory loss. The result: 55 percent of subjects had an impaired sense of smell, while 41 percent of participants were unaware of their olfactory deficit.

“Both tests indicated the same results: patients with frontal injury are more likely to suffer olfactory loss,” says lead author Audrey Fortin, a professor at the Université de Montréal School of Optometry and researcher at the Lucie Bruneau Rehabilitation Centre.

Smell plays a vital role in our lives, says Dr. Fortin, since olfaction influences what we eat, can help us detect gas leaks or fires. Smell also has a huge impact on interpersonal relationships, since olfactory disorders have been associated with poor quality of life, depression, mood swings, worries about personal hygiene, loss of appetite and cooking difficulties.

According to this cute little diagram, my frontal and temporal lobes were affected as well as my cerebellum. That's a whole lot of brain to be affected by what could be considered a little bump on the noggin. The brain is quite the complicated and interconnected bundle of nerves, isn't it?

My sense of taste and smell had returned after a week or so (hallelujah!). Considering the statistics listed below, I'm pretty lucky, I think.  Being a foodie wouldn't be as much fun if everything tasted like wet cardboard.

Smell and/or taste problems can also be caused by trauma to the head. Somewhere between 5 percent and 30 percent of head trauma patients will lose their sense of smell. Taste loss is estimated to occur in 0.5 percent of head trauma patients. Parosmias and dysgeusias may also occur. There is no known treatment for chemosensory problems caused by head trauma. Some patients will get better with time, although this may take years. Spontaneous recovery rates of 8 percent to 39 percent have been reported for smell function, with the majority of patients showing improvement within three months of injury.

So, is there something that I can't smell or taste anymore? I do know that cilantro doesn't taste as bad as it used to (it was like eating soap)! But, chocolate... my dearest chocolate, tastes as wonderful as it did before the injury.

Has anyone else out there had the same experience?

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