Sensory Loss Series: Taste and Smell
Loss of Sense of Taste or Smell due to Medical Negligence
In this edition of our series focusing on injuries caused to the senses, we explore how someone’s ability to smell and taste can be affected as a result of substandard care.
What’s your most favourite smell? Be it freshly cut grass, perfume, or coffee we all have a smell which stirs up different feelings, memories and emotions. But how would you feel if the ability to smell was taken away? Even being able to smell the not so pleasant aromas would have a major detrimental effect on your life. It’s a sense that we would not realise how much we missed until it is gone altogether.
Loss of smell can lead to a decline in a person’s quality of life and can be seriously underestimated as being dangerous. Studies have shown that it can also affect someone psychologically and can cause depression or a decline from social interaction. Some people’s jobs even rely on them being able to taste and smell, such as chefs and gas engineers, for example.
Loss of Taste and Smell
Our sense of taste and smell are closely linked and if you have lost one, it is likely you will also lose the other.
Ageusia is the term used for the loss of taste. Anosmia is the term used for the loss of the ability to smell.
Anosmia can be full where there is a complete loss of smell, or it can be partial. Those suffering with Anosmia will often be only be able to taste salt, sour, sweetness and bitterness, as these tastes are recognized by the taste buds in our tongue rather than from your brain.
Anosmia can be caused by a number of different medical conditions, or can be caused by medical negligence. It is important that those who present with these symptoms should be investigated thoroughly to determine the cause or any underlying symptoms.
Anosmia affects around 30% of people who have suffered from a traumatic brain injury.
The medical negligence team here at Bolt Burdon Kemp specialise in dealing with brain injuries which have been caused due to medical negligence. These include claims which involve:
- Brain injury during surgery due to lack of oxygen or substandard surgical technique;
- Delay in receiving treatment for conditions including strokes, meningitis, brain haemorrhage etc;
- Prescribing medication incorrectly;
- Delay in diagnosing brain injuries following an accident
The loss of smell and taste following a traumatic brain injury is often overlooked compared to the other life threatening health concerns which are involved. It is often not noticed for some time following an injury.
The loss of sense of smell and taste may be as a consequence of injury to the nasal passages, damage to the nerves in the nose and mouth, or to areas of the brain itself.
It is important that this is not overlooked and the patient receives tests and input from a specialist at an early stage to consider the extent of the injury to these senses. Unfortunately there is still no conclusive treatment to cure post brain injury anosmia. Most people who have suffered a brain injury may find these senses do not return for up to six months. However most commonly if the ability to smell or taste has not returned after six months, then the loss will likely be permanent.
You may have lost these senses through invasive ENT surgery, which has damaged the nerves around the nose and mouth, or experienced an allergic reaction while under anaesthetic. The most common causes of damage to these senses are from ENT procedures including removal of nasal obstructions, sleep apnoea procedures, rhinoplasty and sinus surgery.
Injuries to the senses resulting from ENT surgery often include:
- Surgical damage to nasal receptors resulting in loss of smell;
- Delay or failure to diagnose and treat sinus or nasal tumours;
- Delay or failure to appropriately treat nasal fractures
People may also lose their sense of smell or taste through negligent dental treatment. If the sense of taste has been affected since the dental treatment, or if the tongue feels numb, then some of the nerves in the mouth may have been negligently damaged.
Other incidents of negligent dental treatment involve the incorrect placing of dental implants into the sinus and the delay in recognising the cause and removing the implant from the sinus.
Charity Support, Help and Assistance
Fifth Senses is a UK charity for people who are affected by smell and taste disorders.
Fifth Sense has carried out an ongoing survey of its members to establish the impact of such conditions on their quality of life. From figures released in December 2013, they found that:
- 94% of respondents said that their appreciation of food and drink had been reduced;
- 60% said they felt alone and isolated as a result of their condition;
- 45% suffered from depression;
- 55% experienced difficulties in their relationship with partners, families and/or friends;
- 78% felt angry or frustrated;
- 85% were afraid of being exposed to dangers such as gas or spoiled food
The charity website holds a wealth of information for sufferers on resources, research, support and advice. They also hold an annual conference which gives sufferers a great opportunity to learn more about the condition and hear from specialists in the field.
You can find out more information here:
Health and Safety Concerns
Headway, the brain injury association, provides very helpful information for those who have suffered from a loss of taste or smell following a brain injury. These suggestions are also helpful for anyone who has lost the ability to smell and taste through medical negligence, to ensure their health and safety are not affected. They include:
- Fire/smoke – Fit a smoke alarm, have electrical appliances regularly serviced, remove plugs when not in use and use an alarm to remind you of food cooking in the oven.
- Gas leaks – Have gas appliances regularly serviced and fit a gas detector. You might want to consider fitting an electric cooker and fire.
- Out-of-date food – Always eat or throw out food by its ‘use by’ date. If in doubt, throw it out! Clear out the fridge and cupboards regularly.
- Identifying products – Try to keep products such as drinks, bleach, cleaning products and solvents in their original containers. Make sure they are clearly labelled.
- Home hygiene – Ask friends/family/carers to help empty rubbish bins and keep toilets and kitchen appliances clean to avoid health risks.
- Toxic fumes – Take precautions and follow manufacturers advice when using products such as paint, cleaning products and solvents. Wear a protective mask, ensure rooms are well ventilated and don’t smoke.
How We Can Help
The medical negligence team at Bolt Burdon Kemp are experienced in dealing with claims where someone’s ability to taste or smell has been affected as a result of poor medical treatment.
If the loss of these senses occurs as a result of medical treatment, then you may have a claim for medical negligence. You can also be compensated if there has been an unreasonable delay in diagnosing or treating the underlying problem which has caused the loss of these senses, and has had an impact on the potential outcome of your recovery.
At Bolt Burdon Kemp, we understand the importance of regaining your quality of life after you have been injured. We are familiar with the problems that you may face as a result of your injuries including difficulties in accessing the medical treatment, therapies and equipment you need to aid your recovery. We are also able to provide our clients with practical help and support to help minimise the impact of their injuries in the immediate, medium and longer term.