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How to Lose Sense of Smell in an MVA

I’m David Holub, an attorney focusing on personal injury law in northwest Indiana.

Welcome to Personal Injury Primer, where we break down the law into simple terms, provide legal tips, and discuss personal injury law topics.

Today’s question comes from a caller who indicated that he lost the ability to smell following a severe auto crash with airbags deployed. He is convinced it was due to the crash and wants to hire an attorney to prove it.

Of the many types of injuries people suffer in car crashes, one you do not hear or read often about involves the loss of the sense of smell.

Medical experts can glean from medical records and a physical exam of a patient the mechanism or etiology of injuries causally related to a crash, including whether the loss of the ability to smell is due to a crash.

How does one determine whether the loss of the sense of smell is due to a crash?

Well, if the loss of the ability to smell coincides with the crash, it is one factor but a factor that is not conclusive.

The type of expert who can help is a medical doctor specializing in Otolaryngology: the branch of medicine that deals with diagnosing and treating diseases of the ear, nose, and throat.

These physicians who spend their lives studying the sense of smell will review medical records and perform a physical examination of the patient. They may also require CT scans of the brain and face.

In the caller’s case, his injuries from the crash included loss of smell and taste, as well as knee abrasions (which resolved within a few weeks of the crash). He also had bruising to the face and nose, followed by lingering nose soreness (which resolved within a couple months of the crash). He also suffered from neck pain and severe headaches with light sensitivity (which resolved within 6 weeks of the impact). The headaches and light sensitivity symptoms are typical of a concussion, which were noted when the patient was brought by ambulance to the hospital following the crash.

Typically, a UPSIT assessment test will be administered to the patient multiple times during the weeks and months following the crash.

The UPSIT assessment is a scratch and sniff booklet that the patient will use to register what, if anything, they smell in response to being exposed to 40 different odors.

A person who only can sense less than 5 of the sample odors is deemed to be suffering from anosmia, the absence of the sense of smell.

The expert looks at the circumstances of the crash to see if the forces at work are consistent with the type of head trauma forces necessary to cause the loss of the sense of smell.

The loss of smell also affects the sense of taste or the ability to sense food flavor.

The UPSIT assessment is the standard, validated clinical measure for smell loss based on a forced-choice scratch and sniff methodology.

The prognosis for patients suffering from anosmia is that it is unlikely that the patient will experience any improvement in his sense of smell if there is no recovery in the first year following the trauma. This means that the injury is permanent.

A permanent loss of smell is connected to the loss of being able to taste the flavor of food, such that the sense of taste can also be permanently lost.

Where the sense of smell loss is permanent, it is most likely due to shearing off sensory nerve fibers feeding from the brain into the nasal cavity. This happens due to the jostling of the brain within the skull during a crash.

Swelling of the nose and other trauma can negatively impact the ability to smell odors. Still, such conditions usually resolve within a few months. When the swelling dissipates and a year or more passes without the patient’s sense of smell improving, a permanent brain injury (destruction of the smell-sensing nerves of the brain) is likely.

The loss of the sense of smell is, in reality, the consequence of a traumatic brain injury. For more on traumatic brain injuries, check out episodes of this podcast on the subject by searching the term brain.

Suffering from a complete loss of smell puts a person at increased risk of ingesting spoiled food and not noticing dangers, such as being unable to smell smoke, natural gas, etc.

I hope you found this information helpful. If you are a victim of someone’s carelessness, substandard medical care, a product defect, work injury, or another personal injury, please call (219) 736-9700 with your questions. You can also learn more about us by visiting our website at DavidHolubLaw.com – while there, make sure you request a copy of our book “Fighting for Truth.”