Losing The Sense Of Smell
The Daily Telegraph, June 4, 1996
Treatment for the loss of the sense of smell is hard to find, discovers Alison Gould. With fragrant summer flowers about to
beguile our senses it can be a miserable time of year for those with an impaired sense of smell.
It has happened to most of us at some time, perhaps triggered by a cold or sinus infection or even hay fever, and is usually temporary. With some unlucky souls, however, anosmia may go on for years and, occasionally, for life.
Justin Hayward, a musician with the Moody Blues rock group, intermittently suffered for a week or so from loss of smell and taste over many years. "I put it down to lots of coughs and colds plus bad sinus problems which were made worse by flying. One Christmas, I had a very bad cold, lost my sense of smell and taste as usual, but this time it never came back."
There followed an 18-month trek around doctors and therapists to little avail. "One specialist said my sinuses were blocked and prescribed really strong antibiotics for six months which had no effect. Conventional medicine seems to bother very little with this condition because it's not life-threatening."
Loss of smell is very under-researched, says Ellis Douek, an ear, nose and throat consultant at Guy's Hospital, in London. "Surgery helps only a few, so doctors are less interested in patients with the problem."
According to another ENT specialist, Ian Mackay, of Royal Brompton Hospital, London: "The most common causes are infection, allergy or exposure to environmental irritants which inflame the nasal passages."
The first few months are critical. Some patients get better on their own, particularly those suffering only partial loss of smell. Dr. Mackay usually tries steroids first, and they are effective for some, but by no means everyone.
Nine months after Justin Hayward's sense of smell vanished, his doctor told him nothing more could be done, and prescribed anti-depressants.
Then acupuncture was recommended, but it did not help. Surgery soon followed. It also failed to restore his sense of smell, though his sinuses improved.
The breakthrough came serendipitously as the roses bloomed one summer when he mentioned the problem to his dentist. "Another patient, similarly afflicted, had been cured after help from an allergy specialist."
Thomas Marshall-Manifold, of the Wimbledon Clinic of Natural Medicine, treats sufferers with a combination of herbs, homoeopathy, nutritional therapy and a dietary regime which excludes foods to which patients appear allergic or intolerant.
For Justin Hayward he prescribed a zinc supplement and advised him to cut out hot spicy foods, peppers and items such as chocolate, caffeine, citrus fruits and red wine, which are usually linked to migraine. He also gave him homoeopathic drops to boost his immune system, and to treat sinus mucus.
Two months later, Hayward had the first glimmerings of a sense of smell. "It was turkey and cauliflower that were really strong and pungent," he remembers.
Aromatherapy helped him relearn how to smell and he now keeps rosemary, "which I have always loved", beside the bed. After five months, with a short dip at one point, his sense of smell was back to normal.
Dr. Marshall-Manifold's blend of treatment has no scientific backing, and mainstream specialists are sceptical. "It could be that seeing somebody with more time to take an interest makes such conditions more tolerable," suggests Mr. Douek.
Hayward believes the surgery helped, but Dr. Marshall-Manifold's treatment was the turning point. "This was what worked and continues to work for me after an 18 month nightmare."