Imagine living in a world where smelling the sweet fragrance of flowers or freshly baked cookies is impossible. For some people, this is a reality. People who are unable to smell anything have a condition called anosmia. Anosmia makes it impossible for people to smell stinky smells, such as skunks, as well as good smells, like scented candles. People who have this condition have noses that look normal, so most of the time, other people never know that they have anosmia. Sometimes, people only have anosmia for a short amount of time and then their sense of smell goes back to normal. Other times, though, a person can lose their sense of smell forever.
The causes of anosmia can be very different. Anosmia can happen, and most frequently does, when a person is sick with a cold. Because a person's nose and sinuses become stuffed up, it can be hard to smell anything at all when you have a cold. With a cold, a person may be able to smell only a little bit or not at all. Either way, anosmia caused by a cold does not last forever. After the cold is gone, people can usually smell like they did before they became sick. Other temporary causes of anosmia include illnesses such as the flu, allergies, sinus infections, or hay fever. Usually, anosmia with any one of these illnesses, like with a cold, will go away as soon as the person is feeling better. But other people might have a problem with their nose that causes anosmia. People with deformed noses, a broken nose, or tumors or polyps in their nose might also be unable to smell normally. This is usually fixed with surgery, and as soon as the nose is healed from the operation, the nose is opened up and a person can then smell and breathe properly. Temporary anosmia may be annoying for a short time, but in some cases, the loss of smell can last forever. Anosmia is permanent for people who have it because of aging, brain damage, or a serious illness. A traumatic brain injury, certain medications, and being exposed to some types of harmful chemicals are some of the things that might cause anosmia. Serious illnesses like Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, Klinefelter's syndrome, and brain aneurysms are also known to cause permanent anosmia.
For people who are having a hard time smelling things, there are signs to look for to tell if it is anosmia. While anosmia itself isn't a big problem, it can be a sign of a serious illness that needs to be treated. If a person has been sick with a cold or the flu, a stuffy nose or a lost sense of smell may last for up to two weeks. If the sense of smell does not return to normal after that, this is a sign that the person should see a doctor. Other signs of a problem include losing your sense of smell and also having other health problems at the same time, like changes in your vision, a numb feeling in your face, or a headache that gets worse over time instead of better. If a person suddenly loses their sense of smell and they are not sick in any way, they should also see their doctor.
While it might seem like losing your sense of smell is not a big problem, people with anosmia miss out on a lot. Sometimes, it is small things like not being able to smell their favorite perfume. Other times, they wish they could smell the fragrance of flowers in the springtime. Sometimes, of course, they also miss out on odors such as the smell of rotten eggs or a skunk's spray. In some cases, not being able to smell can be dangerous, though. When a person can't smell, they can't tell when food has gone bad by smelling it. This means that they are more likely to suffer from food poisoning. They also can't smell smoke from a fire or fumes from a gas leak. Although these situations can put a person with anosmia at risk, often, these people learn to use their other senses to detect danger. By doing things like being extra-careful with leftover food and having a lot of smoke detectors, they can protect themselves. The hardest part of anosmia might just be the effect that not being able to smell has on your sense of taste. Without a sense of smell, many foods taste different than usual, which can make it hard for people with no sense of smell to enjoy the foods that they once liked.