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What Is Anosmia? What It's Like Being "Smell Blind"

When I First Became Anosmic

I first noticed my anosmia (the inability to smell odor) in 2004. I don't remember if it developed suddenly or gradually, but one day I realized I could no longer smell anything.

At first, I thought it would come back—but it never did. My doctor ordered an MRI of my brain to make sure it wasn't due to a brain injury or a tumor, but the scan showed that I was fine. To this day, we don't know the true cause of my anosmia. From what I've read about this condition, regardless of the cause, it's nearly always a permanent disorder.

Shortly before becoming anosmic, I started culinary school, which was a dream for me. Due to my condition, however, I could not perform as well as I liked, and I ended up leaving the school. This was very frustrating for me at the time.

I still cook, but I work from memory quite a bit. I also incorporate a lot of texture in my cooking. The texture of food is very important to anosmics to get that "food pleasure." For example, think about the chunky, crunchy, and velvety textures of Ben & Jerry's ice cream. (Fun fact: Ben is actually anosmic, and he says that the emphasis they place on their ice cream's texture is due in part to his condition.)

I used to LOVE the taste of garlic. Now I can't taste it at all.

I used to LOVE the taste of garlic. Now I can't taste it at all.

The Effect on Sense of Taste

Since the sense of taste relies on the sense of smell, when a person becomes anosmic, they often have problems with their sense of taste as well.

There are two types of taste loss:

  • Ageusia: The complete loss of the sense of taste
  • Hypogeusia: A partial loss of the sense of taste

Fortunately for me, I have hypogeusia. There is a game where you close your eyes, plug your nose, and someone feeds you some type of sauce. Then, you're supposed to guess which sauce it is. This is what my sense of taste is like.

There are some flavors I can't taste at all, particularly garlic. I cannot smell or taste garlic at all. In fact, I made (and ate) brownies once using garlic oil thinking it was vegetable oil. I noticed the texture of the brownies seemed off and asked my mom if she thought the eggs were bad. She noticed the garlic right away.

The textural awesomeness of shrimp mixed with a vast array of spices all make for a dish I would really enjoy.

The textural awesomeness of shrimp mixed with a vast array of spices all make for a dish I would really enjoy.

I also can't taste spices very well, so I often over-spice my food just to get a vague taste. Nutmeg is something I can't taste at all. I find this to be strange because I can taste cinnamon and clove just fine and nutmeg always seemed so similar.

I'll dump loads of condiments on food to as much flavor as possible. I put so much salad dressing on my food that my friends joke that I have the soup and salad.

I rely VERY heavily on textures in my food. I won't eat anything that has a uniform texture like mashed potatoes or sloppy joes. For some reason, it's not enjoyable. I do enjoy eating things like salads (with lots of add-ons), sushi, and burritos—things with a textural variation.

I can stop and smell the roses... or at least I think I can!

I can stop and smell the roses... or at least I think I can!

Pumping gas hurts my nose

Pumping gas hurts my nose

No Sense of Smell at All?

There are three things I swear I can smell—roses, toast, and melted butter (on a frying pan.) I'm not sure if it's a psychological/memory thing, but when I smell a rose, I really think I can smell it. How can my memory be that vivid?

I do get phantom odors at times. It is a strange occurrence, though, it's usually a single scent that stays with me all day and I can't pinpoint its source. It's usually a smell I remember but usually, can't remember what thing smells like that.

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Sometimes, though, I do know what has a similar odor. In these cases, there is almost never recent contact with whatever has that smell, so it seems like a memory thing. For example, a few weeks ago, I swear I could smell this face mask gel that you put on your face, wait for it to dry, and then peel it off. However, I do not own any nor have I used any in years.

I also experience certain sensations when I know there is a strong odor. For example, my nose burns when I pump gas, go to a Yankee Candle store, or if incense is burning but I'm unable to smell anything at all.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2012 Melanie Palen


Sara on May 26, 2018:

I have this after fracturing my skull and having a brain bleed. My taste has changed too. Things aren’t as strong. I can sometimes smell things, but for like a second, then the smell disappears and if I try to smell the same thing again...nothing.

But I also get smells that stay with me all day. Smells I have never smelled before, I have trouble even to describe the smells, it’s like 2 or 3 different, all musty type. The first smell I had after I realised I described almost as an inner smell, fleshy...

I can also smell heat! Anything that is hot has the same smell! It’s not awful, but almost like burnt coffee.

I am lucky I don’t smell some ad smells. (When the dog farts!!) But an also more wary of gone off food/gas. I do get a little upset that I can’t smell the cooking or wine or lilies or my animals.

Jose peralta on February 02, 2017:

I identify myself with your situation ,i too lost my sense of smell and taste thought there are certain things i could partially taste when i eat ,if possible keep us updated if you end up going to the taste and smell center.

Christy Birmingham from British Columbia, Canada on February 24, 2014:

Thanks for telling me more about this. I didn't realize that garlic wouldn't be smelled or tasted at all as I find it a really strong scent. I am sure it must be frustrating to have the condition. Well written hub here.

Levertis Steele from Southern Clime on February 24, 2014:

So interesting! I cannot imagine not being able to smell, but I wonder if it could be a means to cut down on over eating. I wonder if the sense of smell could be removed to help extremely obese people lose weight.

I have a three-year old grandson who MUST smell any food before deciding to eat or reject it. If he does not like the smell of a food, no matter how delicious, he will not eat or taste it. He simply says, “It’s nasty.”

Thanks for sharing this hub! I will share also.

Karen Shiley from Washington on November 13, 2013:

Interesting topic. I remember reading on the FDA website that Zicam nasal swabs were removed from store shelves due to the fact that some people were experiencing permanent anosmia after using them. I bet a lot of people have experienced this and did not realize the cause.

lori d on September 20, 2013:

I have the same problem and I can only smell just recently. Some perfumesI thinkit's very hard for me because I can't mail my newborn grandson it's also very scary because I can't mail the smoke in my house I can't smell chemicalsand I can smell food if its badthe doctor cannot find a medical reason for me losing my sense of smell and it kind of feels like a person that I cannot see because you always have to ask for help in smelling something

FlourishAnyway from USA on April 19, 2013:

I am concerned for you. I have MS and lost my sense of smell and taste. It came back, but it was an odd experience that made me feel like I was missing a big part of normal everyday existence. I am concerned what you are experiencing might be neurological. Take care. Wishing you the best.

Melanie Palen (author) from Midwest, USA on November 27, 2012:

I'm doing okay. Not cool not having a sense of smell, but there's not a whole lot that can be done, so I've pretty much accepted it. Plus, I don't have to smell bad things, so I guess that's good. :P

memo on November 26, 2012:

How is she dealing with this difficulty?

Gustave Kilthau from USA on October 28, 2012:

Howdy melbel - Glenn Stok mentioned that nasal polyps can cause loss of the sense of smell. He is correct on that. Would you believe that just a few "pennies" worth of prednisone can fix that problem - or the polyps can also be surgically snipped out. Nasal and sinus infections can also be the culprits. Folks without medical insurance can cough up a hundred bucks and visit the nearest "Doc in the Box" to get started on smelling again if either of those things are causing the problem.

Losing any of the ordinary senses is a sign of problem(s) that need tending to. Best to do without something you spend your bucks on and get the problem(s) fixed than to croak because you didn't smell it coming at you... nuff said?

I enjoyed reading your article. I am sad that you have the problem. I did, too, several times, but 3 bucks worth of prednisone is good for about 6 months of "no-polyps" - no kidding, it costs little and works a lot.

Gus :-)))

brian on October 13, 2012:

I was a kitchen manager at my dream job but was going to move to oregon from washington to go to culinary school when I hit my head and lost my smell. my doctor said it will probably come back... could be 10 days could be 10's been 4 . but i've learned to use my taste buds and texture really well to adapt..I still want to go to school but don't know where I wont be wasting their time!!

alyshiann on October 11, 2012:

Hi! I ran across this web in search of some information about my condition of not being able to smell. I was shocked to see that it is not as uncommon as I thaught since ive never looked into it before. Ive always wanted to be a chef but ive always thaught how can you cook if you can't smell!I don't ever remember smelling in my life. I do remember when I was lil grownig up in California I use to live near a big sunflower field were my brother and I would play in for hours. I often wonder if that was the cause but I don't remember. Any way if anyone could help me to figure a way to pursue my long life's dream of becoming a chef please post any information. And I to don't have any medical insurance but any information would be greatly appreciated. thanks for reading this and hope to hear something soon! sincerely yours Hopeful!

Melanie Palen (author) from Midwest, USA on September 05, 2012:

No, it's not an allergy issue.

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on September 04, 2012:

Very interesting and that is too bad. My mom was very ill before she passed on but she even with allergies could be made hungry if I cooked up something great smelling. Have you ever tried antihistamines in case it is sinus?

Rebecca Mealey from Northeastern Georgia, USA on July 30, 2012:

This is very interesting. Did you know that the area of the brain that controls sense of smell is located adjacent to the part responsible for long term memory? That's why certain smells bring memories of events. I would guess that one of your other senses, like sound or touch work to compensate. Great Hub!

India Arnold from Northern, California on July 30, 2012:

I hope you get your sense of smell back at some point, Mel. It makes me sad to think that becoming anosmic can happen to someone who enjoys the culinary world so much. Sorry you had to drop the class. I have heard that some nasal sprays can cause permanent loss of smell...can't remember which brand.

The phantom smells can be a good thing, or so I would think. No matter if that rose aroma is actual or figment, I hope it is fantastic for you! Thank you for educating us with your personal story about your loss of the sense of smell.


Cynthia Calhoun from Western NC on July 29, 2012:

I've heard of this, but I didn't realize there was a name for it and things like that. Oh, I hope you get your sense of smell back someday.

Lucky for us here at HP, you're a computer guru and not a chef. :) You're so good at this computer stuff...and we're all thankful for it. Keep on rockin'!

Melanie Palen (author) from Midwest, USA on July 26, 2012:

Thank you, Glenn, I totally appreciate it. There's this place in Ohio that I was hoping to save up enough money to go to called the University of Cincinnati Taste and Smell Center. That's not too far away from me and I think they might be able to help me. It'll take a bit of time for me to save up, but I think they could help me the best since they specialize in it.

I haven't had any head trauma, but was taking anti-depressants around the time my sense of smell disappeared. I also have allergies and sometimes bloody noses when it gets dry. That's all I really can think of that might have anything to do with it.

Thank you for your advice and kind word Glenn, and really everyone that commented. Thank you all so much!

Glenn Stok from Long Island, NY on July 26, 2012:


Maybe you can find a local medical university that might be doing free studies of this condition since you mentioned that you didn’t have insurance. At least it’s a way to get it checked out. You might have a polyp in your nasal passage. I don’t want to alarm you but losing sense of smell can be a sign of more serious problems too. But I’m sure you already read about all that.

Neurological problems can also cause a loss of the sense of smell. Catching it early can help prevent future problems. Did you have a trauma to your head some time in 2004 or shortly prior to that? That can cause loss of smell. You said you couldn’t recall if it came on suddenly or over a period of time. So think back if you had any traumas before that.

Our bodies are so neurologically complex that so much can go wrong. I developed tinnitus in 2005 and learned how easily things can go wrong with our senses.

Hopefully your situation is due to some minor irritation since it burns when you smell gasoline or candles. Try going to a drug store and ask the druggist if there is anything over the counter that can be tried. You don’t need insurance to get a professional opinion from a druggist.

Good luck with it.

Stephanie Henkel from USA on July 26, 2012:

Interesting hub. I have a very poor sense of smell that I attribute to using various solvents while painting with an airbrush. Both my son and one of my granddaughters (not his daughter) have lost their sense of smell. My granddaughter has asked her doctor about it and was told that it could have been caused by a bad sinus infection, but they weren't sure. There doesn't seem much they can do for it. I can sympathize with the frustration of not being able to smell foods, and it does affect the way things taste.

I'd be interested in a follow-up if you find more information. Meanwhile, I'm so glad you can still smell the roses! :)

mega1 on July 26, 2012:

good hub! I take care of an older man who cannot smell much or taste. He can sense sweet and sour and so has developed a huge sweet tooth. It isn't,t fun to cook for him because he completely misses all the subtle flavors I work hard to make. It is a challenge and I sure hope I never lose my sense of smell or taste. I get what I call "phantom" scents Like roses or oranges especially when I know they aren't really a there. This is the spirits sending me good blessings, I think. Great subject you picked hope someday there is a cure for this.

Joshua Zerbini from Pennsylvania on July 25, 2012:


This is so interesting, I have always wondered about this. Your hubs are always so informative. Sorry you can't smell though, :(

Deborah Brooks Langford from Brownsville,TX on July 25, 2012:

my husband can't smell anything.. I will say do you smell that? and he will say no I can smell anything.. its crazy.. I feel for you all.

great hub.



kelleyward on July 25, 2012:

Wow I've never heard of this. I'm sorry you have to deal with this condition. After reading this I was reminded that when we lose one sense we become more sensitive to others. You said you are more sensitive to texture now. You're such a resilient person. Voted up, useful, and shared on twitter.

moonlake from America on July 25, 2012:

Our son lost his sense of smell after a head injury. He has never said anything about losing his taste. I do worry because he can't smell smoke. It's easy to forget he can't smell and hand him something to smell all the time. Voted up on your hub.

Stacy Harris from Hemet, Ca on July 25, 2012:

I can only imagine how strange it is to not be able to smell. Not to mention, it has to be a pain. You don't get the same feeling when you walk into a room with good smelling food, you can't get a wiff of flowers... but then again, at least you can avoid bad smells too. I drive down this road and there is a poo plant. When the wind hits it just right - you hold your breath the entire 4 miles! And skunks... yuck!

Interesting hub and thanks for sharing your story.

Yvonne Spence from UK on July 25, 2012:

Melanie, I read recently about a young man who lost his sense of smell, and was like that for many years. He recently had an operation that brought it back - and he had the kind where you can't taste at all. I did a quick search, but couldn't find any reference to it. If I do find it I'll let you know as it must be frustrating not being able to smell.

This was an interesting read!

Kelly Umphenour from St. Louis, MO on July 25, 2012:

Excellent! I mean the article - not the fact that you lost your sense of smell!

I wondered how it affected taste...and interesting that you have phantom odors! I bet that is something to do with memory. Totally seems like a nuerological thing...I just did some research recently and they say smell has direct routes to the brain. Unlike other senses, like vision and hearing. Those impulses go to a sort of relay center in the brain before processing...super interesting!

Thank you - you should find out if there are any research studies that you could participate in for this condition. They may pay YOU to study you!

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