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What is it like to live without a sense of smell? — here’s what anosmics revealed

What is it like to live without a sense of smell? — here’s what anosmics revealed

Anosmia, or losing the sense of smell, is more distressing than one could have ever imagined.

While the sensation of smell could be considered as one of the great joys in people’s lives, losing it can affect not just the pleasure in life, but also the health and safety. 

Anosmia, the olfactory dysfunction of losing smell, is considered as one of the rare conditions, according to the Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center (GARD). In relation to this, a study concluded that a reduced capacity to distinguish odors may predict mortality within five years among older adults. 

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Health issues may arise as a result of an impaired sense of smell. Since anosmics are unable to identify scents that indicate deterioration, they may accidentally consume soured or rancid foods. They may also be unaware that they are inhaling hazardous, polluted, or smoke-filled air. 

Delving the different cases of anosmia, three individuals shared their stories in dealing with this rare condition. As the people living with a functional sense of smell get perplexed in this diagnosis, these narratives respond to a common question — what is it like to live without a sense of smell?

Anosmia as remained mark of Covid-19

During the onset of the pandemic surge, the rapid development of studies began to notice unprecedented symptoms of Covid-19. Various studies have shown that apart from fever, dry cough, and general malaise, a significant percentage of patients have also lost their sense of smell. 

The American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery (AAO-HNS) released the preliminary findings of the Covid-19 Anosmia Reporting Tool, which revealed that 73 percent of cases prior to diagnosis were anosmic. Moreover, 26.6 percent of patients pointed out that anosmia was one of their first symptoms.

Meanwhile, a recent study by Alega and Cruz, published in the Philippine Journal of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, showed that there was a significant association between anosmia and positive RT-PCR test results. More than 50% of diagnosed patients in the present study presented with anosmia.

Rain, 21, tested positive for the Covid-19 virus last August 12, 2021. Two days after the diagnosis, he has experienced a loss of smell. 

“At first, everything is manageable. But as time passed by, I became more conscious about safety matters. There was a time when I didn’t notice a burning electrical outlet in our home for I cannot smell it,” he said. 

After a few months, he has observed constant improvements in his condition. As of now, he can partially smell some objects. However, he revealed that there are also impairments in his taste buds. 

“Whenever I smell boiled eggs, it’s like a scent of floor wax, a very strong scent of floor wax,” he said. “The onion as well, every time I sniff it, I become nauseous,” he added.  

Started with a common cold

More than as a symptom of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, viral illnesses such as the flu, nasal polyps, or just a common cold can also cause anosmia.

On March 5, 2021, the 21-year old student Limuel became anosmic, caused by a simple cold. Aside from losing smell, regaining his desire to eat food becomes a challenge too.  

“Since I lost my smell, I also lost my appetite. I intake sweet and salty foods because with these, somehow, I can feel my sense of taste. Started when I became anosmic as well, I cannot enjoy my food the way it used to be. I’m just eating for survival and for the reason that I don’t want to become skinny,“ he said. 

According to Hopkins Medicine Organization, the ability to smell also affects the ability to taste. Without the sense of smell, people’s taste buds can only detect a few flavors, and this can affect the quality of life. National Health Service-UK also suggests that many people with anosmia lose interest in food because 80% of the flavor of food comes from its smell. 

In relation to this, taste disorders can affect nutrition and lead to weight loss and malnutrition. It can also harm the immune system and worsen other medical conditions.

Limuel also shared how he usually determines the edibility of the food that he will intake.

“You can’t determine if the food is already staled and spoiled because you can’t smell it. But you can determine it through its surface. Moreover, I always check the expiry date. In other instances, I let others smell my food if it’s already spoiled or not, for my safety,” he mentioned. 

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Anosmic since birth 

Furthermore, there are also people who are born with a lifelong inability to smell. Studies suggest that congenital anosmia affects 1 in 10,000 according to GARD.  

Scientists believe the abnormal development of the olfactory system causes the disorder, the sensory system responsible for scent, before birth.

Rose, 27, is just one of the people born and living with the condition of congenital anosmia. 

“All of us (siblings) are anosmic since birth. I’m the youngest among the five. From elementary to college, I did not meet any person with the same case as mine. For others, they perceive this condition distinctively, like they are clueless that there are people living without smell since birth,” she said. 

“The toughest one is that I have no idea about my odor. Also, the sad part, even for once in my life, I wouldn’t have the chance to smell the environment I’m living, especially my loved ones,” she added.

People with congenital anosmia have a lifelong inability to smell and have no concept of what a smell even is. Studies also affirm that there’s no known cure or treatment for congenital anosmia.

A sense often disregarded

Their narratives prove that losing the sense of smell is more distressing than one could have ever imagined.

However, the olfactory is often disregarded among the senses. In a poll of 7,000 young people worldwide, about half of those aged 16 to 30 stated they would rather lose their sense of smell than give up access to technology such as computers or cell phones. 

With these facts and testimonies, smelling the whiff of the sauteed garlic, strong aroma of the coffee, flowery fragrance of a women’s perfume, and other everyday scents would be much appreciated. 

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