#98 TRENDING IN Personal Growth 🔥

I Can't Smell the Roses: My Experience with Anosmia (Before COVID)

Personal Growth

May 30, 2023

I'm not sure when I lost my sense of smell or why. But I do know when it hit me that I really couldn't smell anything. My family was on vacation, and we decided to visit a perfume shop.

They dabbed perfume on our hands, and no matter how close I got, I just couldn't detect the scent, subtle or strong. It went that way for two whole hours. What was most surprising was my realization that this had been the case for years, and I just hadn't realized it. I distinctly remember one particular writing assignment where we had to use all 5 senses to write a description of our favourite vacation. The other 4 senses came easily, but for the life of me, I did not remember a single smell from that trip. Personally, living without a sense of smell doesn't present too many obstacles, but sometimes I wonder what I'm missing. I don't know if I'll be able to inhale the warm aroma of tea and instantly feel more awake. Perhaps I might be able to appreciate more types of food. But at this stage, it doesn't feel like it impacts my life much. In this article, I'll explore how our sense of smell works, how it can be damaged, and the surprising consequences.

How Does Olfaction Work?

As we breathe in, odour molecules are filtered as they move up to the top of the nose. They are then dissolved in mucus. Afterwards, they spread through the mucus and attach to thin structures called cilia that connect to receptor cells.

This then generates an impulse that is passed along nerve fibers that eventually form the olfactory nerve. The signals converge at the olfactory bulb, where they are processed and the information is passed on to other parts of the brain. Funnily enough, about 80-90% of taste comes from smell.

Causes of Anosmia

Causes are wide-ranging. The most well-known cause is COVID-19; however, there are plenty more. They include hay fever, sinusitis, the flu, a cold, and nasal polyps.

Other causes of acquired anosmia are traumatic brain injuries, diabetes, radiation treatment, chemotherapy, Kallmann's syndrome, etc. Sometimes, olfactory pathways just become impaired with age. There's a relative lack of awareness of congenital anosmia. People with congenital anosmia either lack the required structures in their olfactory system or have a genetic disorder. Congenital anosmia is extremely difficult to treat,

Consquences of Anosmia

Technically, anosmia is classified as an invisible disability. After all, I am currently missing a real sense. However, there are everyday consequences.

First of all, you can't tell if there's smoke or gas in the air or if food has spoiled. With a limited sense of taste, there's a high risk of having a poor appetite. After all, most rich flavours are lost to us to anomics. The easiest way to explain this is that I know banana bread tastes good, but I most definitely cannot tell if there are bananas in it. This is not to say that I don't love trying new foods. And I will freely admit to my reliance on drinking tea in the morning, but I need strong flavours like ginger, otherwise, it's not the most enjoyable experience. Cooking, however, takes a lot more attention to detail. I can't just know when something is done, which may explain my ineptitude at cooking. There are benefits too. Yes, I lose the good smells: flowers, fresh pages, rain, etc, but I don't notice bad ones either. Perhaps there's something I'm missing out on, but without any solid smell memories, it's not too bad to live with. It's scientifically proven that the olfactory bulb is very close to the hippocampus, so smell has strong links to memory. If anyone's wondering whether I have any particular sense that is stronger than normal to compensate, I have extreme myopia, but I am extra sensitive to touch. However, losing it suddenly would carry the feeling of loss because there's something to compare it to. As far as I can remember, I have few examples of smell to call upon, which makes my condition manageable.


Unfortunately, compared to the other senses, smell is highly under-researched. For those with acquired anosmia, treatment is possible but depends on the cause of the anosmia. If it's caused by sinusitis, taking over-the-counter decongestants might help.

If it's caused by a deviated nasal septum, there's surgery that could alleviate symptoms. If it's caused by allergies, antihistamines can help. However, one new approach to reawakening the olfactory nerves is smell training: sniffing essential oils, like lemon and eucalyptus, daily. Mindfulness is key here. With smell training, even if you don't smell anything, try to remember the sensation. While eating, pay attention to all the flavours and textures you can. There is hope. After all, olfactory neurons are one of the only neurons that regenerate in adulthood. All those treatments apply to people with acquired anosmia. As of now, there are no treatments for congenital anosmia.

How to Live With Anosmia

Across the United States, roughly 13.3. million Americans live with anosmia. One piece of advice for living with this condition is to expect a range of emotions. You may not realize it, but smell is a big part of how we understand the world.

Find support from other anosmics. Many people can be sceptical of anosmia, so look for support and reliable resources. Some organizations that focus on this condition are Abscent and Fifth Sense.

Research has found a correlation between anosmia and depression, possibly because reduced input from the olfactory system affects the limbic system, which is related to processing emotions. Another valuable tip is to understand how your relationship with food changes. There's no reason why you can't enjoy food with anosmia. Instead, try and focus on bold flavours and activate other senses while eating to compensate.

From a practical perspective, get a smoke detector, set timers when cooking, and check expiration dates. Otherwise, it can be hard to know when something is done on the stove or if the milk has spoiled. Most importantly, rely on the other noses in your life.

Just because you can't smell doesn't mean you can't hear about what other people smell. Find ways to make a smell a part of your daily experiences even if you can't do it yourself.


So, yes, I'm nose blind. I know I'm missing the majority of what constitutes flavour, but the basic information from my taste buds tends to suffice on a daily basis. The main risks are not knowing if food is spoiling or if there's smoke, but with the help of others, one can typically get by. I literally can't smell the roses, but it doesn't hold me back from finding joy in my life.

Ananya Vinay
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Writer since Jul, 2022 · 9 published articles

Ananya Vinay is a freshman at Pomona College, who is from Fresno, California. She is a budding scientist and writer, as well as the author of a poetry collection, Dewdrops on the Mind, with work forthcoming or published in the Ice Lolly Review, Apprentice Writer, Teen Ink, and New Scene Magazine. When she’s not writing, you can find her with her nose in a book, inventing stories, or sometimes arguing with her younger brother.