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Anosmia: Having No Sense of Smell

Published: 2009-01-14 - Updated: 2022-07-22
Author: Disabled World - Contact Details
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Synopsis: Anosmia is classified as an invisible disability as a person with anosmia has a lack of the sense of smell. Smells trigger memories and feelings, evoke empathy, and explore social atmospheres. Without smell, the anosmic has no or restricted access to these important facets of daily life. Anosmics can not smell things like gas leaks, chemicals, smoke, rotten food, or sour liquids.



Anosmia (an-OHZ-me-uh) is the partial or complete loss of smell. Anosmia can be a temporary or permanent condition. You can partially or completely lose your sense of smell when the mucus membranes in your nose are irritated or obstructed, such as when you have a severe cold or a sinus infection. Anosmia differs from hyposmia, a decreased sensitivity to some or all smells. In the United States, 3% of people over 40 are affected by anosmia, and anosmia is a common symptom of COVID-19 and can persist as long COVID. Many countries list anosmia as an official COVID-19 symptom, and some have developed "smell tests" as potential screening tools. As many as 80% of COVID-19 patients exhibit some change in chemesthesis, including smell.

Main Digest

All human beings communicate (as do animals, reptiles, and birds) through sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell. To not have any one of these senses is to be considered disabled. Each of these disabilities is considered a communication disorder.


Anosmia can be partial or complete, although a complete loss of smell is fairly rare. Loss of smell can also be temporary or permanent, depending on the cause. When the loss of smell is partial, the condition is called hyposmia. Some people are anosmic for one particular odor, called "specific anosmia." Although the loss of smell can sometimes be a symptom of a serious condition, it isn't necessarily serious. Still, an intact sense of smell is necessary to taste foods fully. Loss of smell could cause you to lose interest in eating, leading to weight loss, malnutrition, or even depression.

Anosmia often seems - to those people whose olfactory systems are in perfect working order - to be the easiest communication disorder to live with. Yet, ask anyone who has had their sense of smell taken away from them, and you'll find that this sense is seriously underrated and taken for granted.

It's quite true that no sense of smell means the sufferer misses out on the full impact of such delicious odors as rotting meat or hour-old baby poo. It means a drive past the local garbage dump is no better or worse than a drive past a field of wildflowers. Body odor has no impact, and bodily gas expulsions are a complete non-entity.

The other side of the coin is that fresh-baked bread also means nothing, flowers are perfumeless, and the smell of a loved partner or child leaves no impression.

Smells trigger memories and feelings, evoke empathy, and explore social atmospheres. Without smell, the anosmic has no or restricted access to these important facets of daily life. Pheromones, the almost undetectable scents that cause the attraction between humans, are a lost cause on the anosmic. Clueless is often an apt description for the person who cannot detect the "changes in the atmosphere" caused by human interaction.

Article continues below image.
Cross-section of the interior of a nose
Cross-section of the interior of a nose

The Dangers of Being Anosmic

Anosmics can not smell gas leaks, chemicals, smoke, rotten food, or sour liquids. Being able to smell these hazards saves lives just as often as seeing or hearing impending danger. Anosmics need sensors in their houses that can detect and warn of gas or smoke and pick up the odor of dangerous airborne chemicals. They need more than their own experience to help with detecting turned food or liquids. They also need recognition that they need these things and, if necessary, the financial help to acquire portable sensors that can travel with them from home.

A person born without a sense of smell doesn't need to be told. They knew it the first time someone close by let go with some bodily wind, and they looked around mystified while everybody else groaned, moaned, and blocked their noses from the smell. "What smell?" says the anosmic.

The late-onset anosmic (usually a cause of illness or head injury) knows it when their food tastes bland all of a sudden. This sudden loss is known to cause depression and anger and affect appetite. Suffers swing between overeating in a search for what they've lost or not eating enough because their food tastes like "soggy paper" or worse. Taste is approximately 75% flavor. Flavor is smell.

The person without the sense of smell needs other people to know it. Imagine the alienation, just for a moment, if you were the only one in your family who couldn't see or hear, but nobody believed you. Anosmics the world over have this happen to them constantly. The blind or deaf person is not required to prove their disability constantly. The anosmic does. Friends and families of the blind and deaf do not forget that their loved ones cannot see or hear. Friends and family of anosmics repeatedly forget.

The blind and deaf do not hide their disability. The anosmic quite often feels the need to do exactly that. A blind person does not have their disability trivialized, nor are they told: that "it's all in their head." Too many anosmics, unfortunately, do - even by doctors who really should know better.

I do not wish to imply that vision or hearing impairment is an "easy" disability. They are far from it. I use these examples to show the invisible disability of anosmia and, for that matter, ageusia and the extra difficulties sufferers of both deal with. Such social difficulties and their effect on self-esteem and self-image impact, to varying degrees, mental health. Many ageusics - people without the sense of taste - suffer similarly to anosmics. Often the two disorders go hand in hand, especially if caused by head injury.

Anosmics do not need their own car spaces or, for the most part, require special treatment. They need awareness, support, solutions, and respect from friends, family, and doctors. What help is there for anosmics? Ask anyone afflicted with this disorder, and they'll tell you, pitifully little...

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