Smell Blind: What It's Like to Be Anosmic
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.)
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.
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 textural variation.
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 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.
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.
Questions & Answers
© 2012 Melanie Palen