P.E.I. Man Fractures Skull, Loses Ability to Smell

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Ian Ronald Drummond suffered three skull fractures and a broken jaw after literally being thrown out of a Halifax bar, head first, and onto the sidewalk in January of last year.

But that was not even the worst of it. Twenty-three-year-old Drummond now claims that he lost his sense of smell and taste from the incident and is suing owners of a nightclub called the Dome, said Drummond's lawyer, Wayne Bacchus.

"There are huge losses in terms of safety concerns and nostalgia if someone loses their sense of smell and taste," said Bacchus. "Taste and smell give you warnings. Now my client must rely on everything artificially, rather than his senses.

"How do you compensate someone for that?" continued Bacchus.

According to Bacchus, two security staff escorted a calm Drummond to the exit, when a third man grabbed and threw him onto the sidewalk, where he lay until the ambulance arrived.

That third man, Jonathan Lawrence Briggs, pleaded guilty to assault causing bodily harm in February.

Bacchus said that Briggs acted as a de facto bouncer for the club that night, and therefore, the bar should also be held responsible for Drummond's injuries.

"That was something that involved another patron," said Gary Muise, vice president of operations at the Grafton Connor Group, the organization that manages several bars and nightclubs, including the Cheers Burger Emporium and Lounge. "As for our responsibility, we have no further information."

Because of the assault, Drummond said that he has lost his sense of smell and taste. And many experts say that this is an unsurprising side effect of a traumatic brain injury, like a skull fracture.

"Loss of smell, or anosmia, is not uncommon after a traumatic brain injury," said Dr. Robert Stern, co-director of the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy at Boston University School of Medicine. "There are many different types of injuries and conditions that result in loss of smell, most resulting from damage to the olfactory nerve or olfactory bulb."

Damage to the Olfactory Nerves Can Rob People of Smell

The olfactory nerve sits between the bottom of brain and the skull. Tiny fibers make their way through tiny holes in the skull to the nose. Head injury causes the brain to shift around, and when this happens, those nerve fibers are more prone to get crushed, severed or be pulled loose. Depending on the head injury, it's possible to damage the bulbs themselves, but the damage in the nerves can occur even in minor head injuries.

According to the National Institutes of Health, about 1 to 2 percent of people living in North America suffer from some sort of smell disorder. Problems with smell increase as people grow older.

About 90 percent of taste is smell. The other 10 percent comes from the tongues' taste buds: salty, sweet, bitter and sour. So, a person who has lost his sense of smell loses almost his entire ability to taste, as well.

"We've seen loss of smell in people who get in motor vehicle accidents, or get hit on the head, or even on a rollercoaster ride," said Dr. Alan Hirsch, neurological director of the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago.

A person can also temporarily lose the ability to smell after inhaling certain toxins. And, in some cases, even viruses that cause the common cold can directly attack the neurons, causing people to lose their sense of smell even after their cold and congestion has cleared up.

"It can have marked damage in a person's life," said Hirsch.

Smell and Quality-of-Life

Humans' sense of smell goes beyond its important ability to warn against dangers, like fires and gas leaks, said Hirsch.

"People tend to also gain weight since they lose their perception of how food tastes," said Hirsch. "They don't feel the same fullness. People can also develop depression and anxiety, and begin having difficult interrelating with others."

"And about a quarter of them will develop sexual dysfunction, ," continued Hirsch. "Whether it is the way they feel or some sort of anatomic connection isn't clear."

Dr. Atif Haque, a neurosurgeon at the Fort Worth Brain and Spine Institute, said that some studies have shown that the olfactory nerve is the most commonly damaged nerve in head injuries.

"However, these senses are not routinely checked on work-up, and it's often in delayed fashion that these deficits come to light," said Haque. "In the cases of severe head trauma, patients usually have much more devastating injuries that might potentially keep them from realizing such sensory loss."

Bacchus said that Drummond has permanently lost his sense of smell "as far as medicine goes right now. If it was going to come back, it would have come back in a certain amount of time. And that time has now lapsed."

But Dr. Beverly Cowart, clinical director at Monell Chemical Senses Center, said that there is a lot of debate on how long it can take to regain one's sense of smell after a head injury. Drummond's sense of smell still may have a chance of recovery.

"It does seem to take quite a while," said Cowart. "It can certainly take up to a couple years. It's a pretty vulnerable system, though."