|The loss of smell is known as anosmia, a condition caused by many things such as infections, injury, and even neurological diseases. Taking certain types of medications may also lead to this condition / Photo by: atic12 via 123RF|
The sense of smell is known to have significant associations with memory, but what happens when that ability is gone? Or, if it didn't develop in the first place? Researchers from the University of East Anglia in England said this loss affects every aspect of life.
Their study on people living without the sense of smell shows how even the simple concern of personal hygiene to complicated aspects like personal relationships suffer the consequences of losing this human ability. The researchers hope the results of their study will motivate clinicians to take a closer look at problems of smell and provide better help and support to patients.
Living With No Sense of Smell
The loss of smell is known as anosmia, a condition caused by many things such as infections, injury, and even neurological diseases. Taking certain types of medications may also lead to this condition.
In the study, the researchers spoke with 71 people aged 31 to 80 about what it's like for them to live a life without being able to smell anything. The researchers also determined how many aspects of life this loss can disrupt.
They found that people with anosmia experience a wide range of impairments affecting their quality of life. Participants said their condition came with a negative impact on their emotions and physical health, feelings of isolation, problems with relationships and daily functioning, and the burden of seeking help.
Carl Philpott from UEA’s Norwich Medical School said a big problem that comes with anosmia lies around hazard perception, in which people with the condition can't smell food that has gone bad or smell gas/smoke. He added that this hazard has "resulted in serious misses for some."
"But [smelling] is not just a life-saving sense—it is also life-enhancing," he said in a statement. "A large number of participants no longer enjoyed eating, and some had lost appetite and weight. Others were eating more food with low nutritional value that was high in fat, salt, and sugar—and had consequently gained weight."
Philpott added that participants also lost their interest in preparing food while some reportedly were embarrassed to serve dishes to their loved ones, thus affecting their social lives.
A Lack of Understanding of Anosmia
The fact that smell has a strong link to making memories is also a problem. Losing the ability to smell means a person will no longer be able to know that their mom is making their favorite meal or what their partner's perfume is.
"Smells link us to people, places and emotional experiences. And people who have lost their sense of smell miss out on all those memories that smell can evoke," Philpott explained.
Participants of the study also reported feeling anxious when it comes to their hygiene while parents of young children experienced feelings of failure when they couldn't tell when their child's diapers should be changed.
There was even an instance when a mother said it was difficult to bond with her new baby because she couldn't smell him, the Huffington Post reports.
It adds that many participants experienced the negative impact of their condition in their relationships with other people—from not being able to enjoy having a meal together to difficulties in sexual intimacies.
All these problems stacked together result in a range of negative emotions including anger, anxiety, frustration, depression, isolation, loss of confidence, regret, and sadness. A lack of an in-depth understanding of the disorder among clinicians aggravates these issues.
"I have depression and BPD (borderline personality disorder) but I have no idea how strongly that’s tied to the anosmia,” Jesselyn Verity, who was diagnosed with anosmia, told the Huffington Post.
"It’s hard to say how much I miss out on as I have no idea what it’s like to be normal. I try not to think about it too much otherwise I just get angry and sad."
The researchers hope the findings of their study will give a voice to people with anosmia and make way for opportunities to change the way society understands smell and taste disorders.
Prevalence of Smell and Taste Disorders
Smell and taste disorders usually go hand in hand given their association with each other. However, it's difficult to diagnose and treat these problems due to a lack of knowledge and understanding of the senses and disease states.
Issues concerning the ability to taste or smell may either be a secondary process in different disease states or are primary symptoms of another illness.
It's difficult to determine the exact number of people with smell and taste disorders. In the US, 23% said they experienced some alteration in their sense of smell while 19% felt the same with their ability to taste.
The National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) says the prevalence of reported alterations increases with age and will reach its peak for people aged 80 and above (27% for taste and 32% for smell).
Smell disorders affect about 5% of the population, in which people lose their sense of smell or change the way perceive scents and odors. Data from the NIDCD shows that 6.5% of Americans over 40 years old report experiencing phantom odor perception or smelling something unpleasant even when nothing is there.
The percentage of people with anosmia or severe hyposmia (minimal sense of smell) is relatively low at 3% while overall measurable smell dysfunction is at 12.4% of the population.
Despite the lack of knowledge and recognition of the loss of the sense of smell, there are ways to treat the condition depending on its cause. According to health news source Healthline, anosmia caused by nasal irritation could be resolved by:
• steroid nasal sprays
• antibiotics, for bacterial infections
• reducing exposure to nasal irritants and allergens
• cessation of smoking
Surgical operations may be needed if the cause is a nasal obstruction to remove whatever is blocking the nasal passage. This procedure may involve removing nasal polyps, straightening the nasal septum, or clearing out the sinuses.
Unfortunately, there is no available treatment for congenital anosmia (when people are born with a lifelong inability to smell).