Having been born without a sense of smell, I did not even know until a couple of years ago that my condition had a name -Isolated Congenital Anosmia – or that it was considered a disease. Learning these two things peaked my interest and lead me to do a bit of research on this condition.
What I learned from the so called experts painted a somewhat depressing picture of what life was like for those who have Congenital Anosmia, and that picture was not at all what I myself experienced. So I dug a bit deeper and discovered that the impact this condition has on one’s life depends more on the individual and their own situation than anything else.
Different But Normal
For many people who are born into a family where a previous family member already had Congenital Anosmia, having the condition simply meant they were different than most people, but still normal.
For those who had no family members with Congenital Anosmia, life was somewhat different in their early years, as they would often pretend they could smell things that they really couldn’t, and no one around them knew they had this condition until they would one day admit to someone and then they would be viewed with disbelief.
Having visited Congenital Anosmia forums and read countless articles, it seems that often times those with this condition are told by parents and other family members that “Of course you can smell”, and this insistence sometimes leads those individuals into hiding their condition from others, and in some cases, for the rest of their lives.
For those of us who grew up considering our condition normal, it really was no big deal, and didn’t seem to have a great deal of impact on our lives. For those whose condition was dismissed or viewed with complete disbelief, the impact on their lives had a tremendous affect and still does today.
Of course having no sense of smell does mean that the individual has to make some adjustments due to their condition. Most people with Congenital Anosmia are much more worried about body odour than people who can smell. They tend to shower more often, brush their teeth and use mouth wash a little more than the average person, use an excess amount of deodorant, and wash their clothes even after simply trying them on and not actually wearing them.
Any sweating they do, makes them worry that they smell, and in some cases they don’t get too close to people whom they have just met.
Those people also tend to have both smoke detectors and carbon dioxide detectors in their home and check to make sure that the batteries are operating properly, because they know they aren’t going to be able to smell smoke should there be a fire. But as these adjustments are something they grow up doing, the majority of them don’t give a lot of thought to them as they are simply a part of their normal lifestyle.
Dealing With Other People’s Reactions
Perhaps the most difficult part of having Congenital Anosmia is dealing with other people’s reactions. It often gets to be extremely annoying trying to deal with comments such as “How can you not have a sense of smell”.
Even worse though are the people who believe that because you can’t smell you have no sense of taste. The truth is that some people with Anosmia, most often those who developed the condition after once being able to smell, do have a dimensioned sense of taste, a lot of people born without a sense of smell actually have a highly developed sense of taste.
Just as people without sight often have significantly better hearing and a sense of touch, because their other senses become sharper, so too does the sense taste become sharper for some people who were born without a sense of smell. In fact, some people born with it can actually taste odours in the air.
Several people with Congenital Anosmia have mentioned that during their younger years, usually as a teenager, some idiot who wanted to prove that a person with Congenital Anosmia could not taste anything, would do something stupid, like put pepper in a cup of coffee or extra salt in a soft drink to “prove” their theory.
The older you get, the better you get at dealing with the reactions of other people, but during your formative years, this can and sometimes does pose some difficulties for almost everyone with this condition.
Benefits Of Congenital Anosmia
What most people don’t seem to understand is that are some benefits to having Congenital Anosmia. Here are just a few of the benefits I have experienced:
- I’ve not been in that awkward situation of having to tell a friend or a co-worker that they had bad breath.
- I never had a difficult time changing my children’s diapers.
- I’ve never been stung in the nose because I decided to smell a flower that a bee was occupying.
- I’ve never been forced from a room because someone passed gas.
- I’m not tempted to spend hundred’s of dollars on the latest perfumes.
- I’ve never walked past a bakery and been tempted by the smell to stop in and buy a doughnut I know I shouldn’t eat. (Seeing one displayed in the window is an entirely different matter!)
The simple truth is that having Congenital Anosmia is like many things in life, the impact it has on you is going to depend a lot on your own view of yourself and life.
You either make the necessary adjustments and move on or you mourn the loss of something you never had in the first place and let it define who you are. Either way, you are going to have to accept the fact that it is just something you have to live with for better or worse.
Do you suffer from congenital anosmia? Do you have a friend or family member who does? How has it affected your life?