General

My Year with Anosmia

an·os·mi·a / aˈnäzmēə, aˈnäsmēə / noun MEDICINE

  1. the loss of the sense of smell, either total or partial. It may be caused by head injury, infection, or blockage of the nose.

It took me a year to talk about this on here, but I figured it might shed some light as to why I haven’t completely dived in to sharing my fabulous recipes as I originally wanted to. While most of the world was smack in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, I decided to spice things up a bit.

On June 28, 2020, I had an accident. One that was incredibly preventable and in retrospect, one of those “what was I thinking” moments as an almost 48 year old person. I was outside with my teenager who had just gotten a new skateboard (yep, it’s exactly what you think happened). I was telling her stories of how in my younger days, I (kind of) skated and was able to do (easy) tricks, etc. I thought it would be a great idea to hop on and at least show her how to balance, and roll around – nothing fancy. Putting on a helmet didn’t even cross my mind since I was being “careful” and not doing anything fast/scary/risky. Or so I thought.

To make a really long and traumatic story short, I fell. And I fell hard. After a CT scan and x-ray at the emergency room, I was diagnosed with a bad concussion and a closed fracture of the occipital bone – which is that bone in the back of your head, just above your neck and apparently a hard one to actually break (so HUGE SHOUT OUT to that low bun I decided to wear in my hair that day that softened the blow and protected me). The headache was incredible. I was dizzy, nauseated, off-balance, all of the typical concussion “things” but I feel like I felt them times ten after having pretty easily recovered from a very mild concussion the year before (and a cooking related one! – a roasting pan fell from a shelf onto my head). Anyway, on the way home, we stopped to pick up McDonald’s since we had missed dinner earlier and despite everything that was going on – I was starving. I was handed a bag of fries and chicken nuggets and I noticed something weird right after my first bite. My Mickey D’s was super salty (way more than usual). I kept eating just to eat ‘something’ to mesh with all the Tylenol in my stomach, and chalked it up to the fact that I was crying heavily for the last few hours, and as a result, my nose was really congested (it was almost like when you’re sick, and things don’t taste right), so I let it go for the night.

The next couple of days went by and I was still loaded with congestion and bad headaches. My nose alternated between running and clogged. Having a sinus headache + a back of the head, head injury headache was definitely no fun. After a week of televists with my doctor and my complaining about the headaches and the lack of smell and taste (and a Covid infection ruled out), I was passed on to a great neurosurgeon who took one look at me through the screen and noticed that I had a black eye. I noticed it too, but assumed I had bumped it on the water bottle I was holding when I fell. Not the case. In a nutshell, here’s what happened:

When you hit the back of your head, the brain is forced back then bounces foward, basically smashing into the front of your face, and in my case, causing the black eye and the shearing of my olfactory nerves (those little things you need to smell). I was happy to finally hear that “this happens” and much more often with an injury like mine. The headaches would go away they said, but the Anosmia was another story. No time frame, no ‘cure’, no magic pill. Not what I wanted to hear.

So, what now?

After being told there was nothing to do but wait, I was directed to an ENT for one final opinion. He literally saw me for 15 minutes and handed me a printed sheet about smell training with scented oils and instructions to do regular sinus rinses. I did both of those things diligently for the first three months with little progress. The most smell I got was being able to kind of ‘feel’ a cold sensation in my nose, (but not really smell) peppermint oil. I dove deep into the internet, reading article after article – even 16-page scientific documents – all while trying to just be patient. I read about other people’s experiences with anosmia recovery and it’s hit or miss. But those stories also sparked a whole new level of panic (thanks, internet) – I worried all the time about what I couldn’t smell… what if there was a fire? A gas leak? Did I put deodorant on? Is the raw chicken good? Does the trash need to go out? All of that. It’s unreal how something like scent is so taken for granted. Regardless, I was on a mission to heal myself and had to succumb to relying on the smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms to do their jobs. My husband and daughter are now the sniffers for me when it comes to food, trash, etc…

My takeaway from all of the articles I read had me come up with this supplement “therapy” that I’ve been using for the last few months. Please don’t assume that my list is a cure and always ask your doctor before you start taking anything, but this regimen has been safe for me and the only thing that’s given me any improvement in a year:

– Regular multivitamin + extra vitamin C and D
– 600mg Alpha Lipoic Acid
– MegaRed Advanced 600mg Omega3 Algae Oil
-15-30mg Zinc Picolinate
– I drink a lot of turmeric and ginger tea (anti-inflammatory)
– And today, I’m adding CoQ10 because I started “researching” again, and read some good things about it

The current list of things I CAN smell is:

Oranges, cut grass, my shampoo, Ellia Blended Oils in “Let it Go” and “Fight It” (each definitely smells different), lemons, and most recently garlic and onion (but they kind of smell the same). I’m also getting some smells from things like the Febreeze in the work bathroom, but can’t pinpoint a scent – it just smells sweet. Another point too is that I have not smelled anything gross, so that’s been a huge plus, I guess? I am trying now to focus on smelling everything I can that’s a fresh, not a manufactured scent. So flowers, or any fruit or veggie I cut up, you can bet I’m sticking my nose in them.

What I really miss now are things I loved to smell, like clean laundry from the dryer, brownies baking in the oven, summer, Yankee Candles (!), or my Grandma’s house; and tasting real food. Everything I’ve eaten for the last year has gone from being all about flavor to all about texture. Crunchy, creamy, spicy, salty… I was never one for a lot of spice, but now I add red pepper flakes or Trader Joe’s Bagel Seasoning on just about everything because I can get that little bit of flavor through, which makes me feel like there’s still some hope. Burgers, which I used to love, just taste like metal to me right now. And the big question – CILANTRO – yep, it tastes like soap to me now (it didn’t before)!!

If you’re reading this, and you or someone you know is going through the same thing, just remember that you’re not alone. In my “research”, I found so many posts like this from real people and many have recovered, it just took a lot of time and patience. I’m still suffering with some mild, post-concussion headaches, but the loss of smell is truly one that’s debilitating. I’d also love to compare notes if you’ve gone through this and gotten your smell back – contact me and share your secrets! Meanwhile, I’ll keep cooking my best and sharing my tried-and-true recipes with you!