An anosmiac is someone with no sense of smell. This is not well-known apparently – even MS Word highlights the word as a misspelling demonstrating just how little-heard-of the condition actually is. Sure, being anosmic is not quite as life-altering as being deaf or blind, but it's certainly still an issue for the surprisingly high number of people who suffer. And I should know, because I am one!
So what's it like being an anosmiac? How would your life continue if you ever lost your sense of smell? And how can you bit a bit more sympathetic to the anosmiacs in your life? Read on and I shall uncover the reality of this less-talked-about problem…
What It's Like Not Smelling
First of all, what is it like not smelling? How does it affect you on a day to day basis? And how does it compare to losing another sense?
Well suffice to say that it's not something that often gives you pause for thought. I haven't ever been able to smell, and thus I don't have much of an idea regarding what I'm missing. Despite it being classed as such, I wouldn't call it a disability and I don't really tend to spend much time thinking about it.
In fact, to illustrate just what a small issue it is to begin with, consider that when I was first growing up, I actually had no idea that I even was anosmic. As far as I was concerned nobody could smell and the whole thing was made up.
I distinctly remember being sat in a classroom as a small child and telling my friends that I'd broken wind. They all then proceeded to grab their noses and wince and tell me how much it stank – which was odd because I hadn't actually done anything. I thus concluded that 'smell' was a weird conspiracy and that someone needed to speak the truth. A trip to the doctor followed.
As you can see then, it's not something that terribly changes your life. And in some ways it can even be considered a positive thing. For instance I have always been the member of the household who takes out the trash – I don't mind because I can't smell it. Likewise I have no issue using public toilets or walking through bad smelling streets. From what I gather, life is actually considerably more pleasant for me as a result.
Just as I don't smell bad smells, I also don't smell good smells, and that means I can't smell my girlfriend who always goes to great lengths to ensure that she smells wonderful (she collects perfume).
At the same time it means I can't smell a delicious meal – though that does probably benefit my waistline – or a bunch of flowers.
The biggest problem for me has perhaps been the fact that I can't smell myself. These days I understand hygiene, but when I was a teenager I really didn't and couldn't grasp why everyone was telling me to wash. Even these days I will sometimes not realise I smell when I otherwise might have, and that means I then don't think to spray myself with deodorant when other people would. That can be pretty embarrassing and so I have to keep my friends on red alert to let me know when I start to pong.
In fact, for an anosmiac smell is actually something of an irritation. For instance when I do the dishes and then my girlfriend tells me I need to do them again because they stink – there can be few things more irritating. Of course no one likes having to do their work twice, but it's all the more frustrating when you can't really comprehend why. Sure I get that smell isn't nice, but to think you've done a great job only to be told you haven't is a bummer. One tip for those living with anosmics then is just to be a bit sensitive to this – perhaps wash those plates again quietly when we're out of the room.
The other big downside to not being able to smell is that you can't smell gas. This is the only time when being anosmic can actually be dangerous, and I have in the past managed to fill the entire flat with gas while on my own. There's an obvious solution to this of course which is to use detectors and to avoid gas ovens completely if you can.
Oh and by the way, we can of course still detect smoke – it makes us choke just like everyone else. That said we might be somewhat slower to respond if there's a fire…
One of the biggest issues for anosmiacs is taste. You will often hear people quote that 'smell is 75% of taste' and that will then call into question just how accurate your smell probably is.
The answer is not clear cut. That 75% for one is almost certainly arbitrary as the majority of taste comes from the tongue. Different people seem to have their taste affected to differing degrees if they can't smell, which presumably is to do with the reason that they're anosmic in the first place.
Some people with anosmia do also have a complete lack of taste other than for the ability to discern if something is sweet or savoury. Personally, I have a fairly good sense of taste that again I can't really compare to anyone else's but certainly doesn't seem to be that different.
Friends have noted that I seem to like strong tasting foods in particular, and that there is nothing that I don't really like. This in turn suggests that I might have less of a sense of taste than my peers, but again it's not something that I lose sleep over generally…
For me, the most fun part of not being able to smell is the questions that it raises. You will find that a lot of people have a habit of stuffing smelly things under your nose and then saying 'can you smell this??' for one. Another amusement is the way people treat it as though it was much worse than it was.
People will often say things like 'man, that smells good!' before realising that you can't smell. Now unless you're very sensitive that's unlikely to bother you, but they will still then quickly apologise and tell you they're very sorry.
In short then, being anosmic is not that big a deal and certainly not something that's going to drastically change your life. That said, it still will affect a few areas and will have a few pros and cons. Avoid gas ovens, get someone to smell your shirts, and you should be fine…