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More Than 5% of the World Lives With Anosmia, or No Sense of Smell

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Feb 12, 2020

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A sense of smell is perhaps least societally valued, as compared to seeing, hearing, tasting, and touching. However, it is still a vital part of our five senses, letting us take in beautiful scents like those of flowers, fresh bread, artfully made perfumes, and even certain hydrocarbons.

Living without a sense of smell, or anosmia, is no life and death condition, but it does profoundly affect one’s quality of life. Here’s all one needs to know about this relatively rare condition that roughly 5% of the world struggles with.

What is anosmia?

A loss of one’s sense of smell, either partial or complete, is known as anosmia. This condition can be temporary, in situations like having a common cold or an allergy, or permanent, in cases like nerve damage due to trauma or unnatural growths, like tumors. One can be born with anosmia, or develop it due to other conditions.

What are the causes of anosmia?

Anosmia can occur due to nasal diseases like sinus infections, colds, influenza, allergies, general nose congestion, or blockage of the nasal passage by tumors, nasal polyps, or bone deformities. Nerve damage also causes anosmia and can occur due to a variety of situations ranging from Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, traumatic brain injury, vitamin deficiencies, radiation, alcoholism, smoking, stroke, and certain medication. Anosmia could also be linked to stress and depression, and can also be congenital, or present since birth.


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How does anosmia affect one’s quality of life?

Anosmia’s effect on one’s quality of life is small but profound. The senses of smell and taste are deeply intertwined; without smell, one cannot retain their interest in food, as they cannot identify the subtle nuances between foods beyond the basic salty/sweet/bitter/spicy. Anosmia can also get troublesome, as one wouldn’t be able to smell gas leaks, spoiled or rotten food, or even their own body odors.

How is anosmia diagnosed?

Anosmia is diagnosed after a physical examination and/or CT scan, MRI scan, X-ray, and nasal endoscopy.

How is anosmia treated?

There’s no cure for congenital anosmia, or for anosmia that occurs due to old age, though research on the cure for these states is promising. Anosmia that develops due to other conditions can be treated and cured — the cause of anosmia is examined and treated via medication, surgery, and/or other interventions from a licensed medical professional.

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Written By Aditi Murti

Aditi Murti is the senior culture writer at The Swaddle, with an interest in cultural analysis, environment, and the science of mental health.  Write to her using aditi@theswaddle.com, or find her on social media @aditimurti.

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