As a “low smeller” all my life, I have lots of thoughts about how you might adapt if you lose your sense of smell! Tips and ideas for living with anosmia!
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Hearing about the trauma of people who are losing their sense of smell because of Covid gave me two different feelings… first was from my childhood… “suck it up buttercup!” Yep, I grew up in that time where you were taught to just live with trauma… sigh.
And then I started thinking that I have developed some coping mechanisms over the years that might help you if you are struggling with losing your sense of smell!
- My Lack of Smell Story
- So What Is It Like To Live Without Smell?
- Living With Anosmia FAQ
- Living Without A Sense of Smell Wrapup
My Lack of Smell Story
I think I have generally been “smell blind” like some people are color blind. I can smell a super small range of things occasionally… maybe like 5 or 6 things a day will have a smell, and I notice them and point them out to my family, who are like, “yeah, big deal a smell!”
My anosmia comes from being allergic to functionally everything (grass, dogs, dust, mold, trees, food, etc.), super small nasal passages and then having almost continual sinus infections (rhinosinusitis).
I have been on more courses of antibiotics than anyone I have ever met and use essential oils now to help rather than taking drugs.
I don't know if it has always been this way, my Mom passed when I was 30 (I am 54 now) and she would have been able to tell me if could smell when I was little (my dad was only vaguely aware that there were children in the house so he is no help!)
But I did check with my husband and he said I started talking about not being able to smell when I was getting my allergy shots about 18 years ago, so it has been at least that long, although I don't have any real “smell memories” from childhood… more about that later!
So What Is It Like To Live Without Smell?
So if you are new to not smelling and it is freaking you out a little bit, don't worry so much! I have a super full life and have found some techniques that work for me for getting around not smelling!
But I do get a little bit jealous when I see color blind people wear the glasses! Wouldn't it be cool if you could just put a fake nose on and smell things?
But we don't have that, so here are some tips and tricks to help you out!
Eating Without Smell
One thing that I see A LOT of people who lost their sense of smell talking about is that it isn't fun to eat anymore, and I get that one! I can only smell a VERY small number of foods so my eating is based more on other things rather than taste.
I tend to be very focused on the textures of food. For example, pizza is fun because the cheese sits on top of a layer of sauce and squishes together when you bite it. Oh, and the crust is crunchy and hard rather than being a real taste.
Milkshakes are fun because you can find bits of harder ice cream in them, rather than tasting them… finding a lump of super cold in the middle of a cold drink is cool!
I am going to talk more about liking things you CAN smell, but this applies to taste too! If you are missing the sense of smell and taste of your favorite foods, maybe avoid them for now and find things that have a cool texture rather than a taste you are missing!
If you have even a little sense of smell or taste, salt is going to be your best friend!
For example, I LOVE eating baked potatoes… I cut them up and have TONS of salt on them and use super cold butter so that I can can feel the butter when I eat them. I don't think I taste or smell the actual potato, I can just taste the salt!
If you try McDonalds french fries, put even MORE salt on them than you usually get… sounds gross but if you can't smell, it makes them super good, and the crispy texture is fun to eat!
I KNOW, it sounds like I eat a potato based diet, but I have LOTS of things that are fun to eat! Grate some cheese up, throw some tortilla chips in a pan and fry the cheese up around it in a fry pan. The cheese gets all crispy and golden and is sort of stringy and pully.
Okay, I can sort of smell/taste garlic. I don't know if it is because it is bitter or because it is intrinsically a stronger flavor or smell!
For example, I will fry up some cut up garlic in a pan of butter and throw it in with some leftover spaghetti noodles. Finding the hard bits of garlic throughout the pasta makes eating it a challenge!
I also like super cold salsa that is functionally garlic and tomatoes! The bite of the garlic makes the cold part of the salsa interesting on the salty chips.
Writing this all up and telling you about it makes me realize that most of my food liking is based on texture. For example, I LOVE when my husband make my salmon crispy on the ends. The middle isn't so interesting to eat, but I save the crispy bits to eat at the end as a treat!
Oh, oh, oh, the outside of grocery store fried chicken (I used to like the skin when I wasn't a vegetarian) is a delightful texture!
Feelings Instead of Smellings
So now let's talk about how you can enjoy things around you by feeling them rather than smelling them!
I don't have any childhood memories of smelling Niagara Falls, but I can remember feeling the water vapor in the air on my face. I can remember feeling the ground shake a little and the rumble of the falls in my chest.
I LOVE shoving my face into my dogs' fur and just feeling them on my skin. I can sometimes smell their feet a tiny bit, probably because they walk around in poop and pee a lot, but whatever works!
When you can't smell, your touch sense can take over a bunch of the workload! Have soft blankets around for comfort, wear clothes that make you snuggly and be super nice to yourself with things that do give you comfort.
Liking Smells You Can Smell
Okay, this one might be hard because you used to have things you used to like the smell of, but hear me out!
Instead of liking what you WANT to smell, like what you CAN smell. Because I was never a good smeller, I have found just a few things that I can smell and choose to like those smells.
For example, I can smell Marshmallow Pumpkin Bath and Body Works smell. I get the candles, the soap, functionally anything I can find with that smell because I can get a whiff of it when it first comes out. It goes away right away, but I can find just a hint and that makes me happy.
I KNOW, official smell scientists are saying that you should train your nose by smelling the same 5 different things every day, but I am not sure that will work for everyone. I could sniff peanut butter every day until I am blue in the face and I would never be able to smell it.
Instead of trying to smell things I can't smell, I try to find things I CAN smell. I LOVE going around the candle section of home goods and seeing if I can smell any of the candles. I sniff different perfumes and try to smell things at bakeries and even when I am outside… I can smell some industrial smells around cities and a wee bit of outside when going over bridges on water.
Deliberately Trying To Smell Things
This is one came to me when I started writing this post about my lack of ability to smell so I thought I would share it with you!
As I am doing things in life, say typing a blog post, there is NO chance I will smell anything. My attention is on my words and my work.
Same with doing the dishes. If I am super busy and just pop over to do up the dishes, I won't smell anything (we have two kids and a dementia mom living with Johnny and I so there are LOTS of dishes!)
BUT if I stop and think, “I can smell the dish soap”, then I can smell it.
Smelling is an active, deliberate activity for me, not just something that happens.
I use Grove Collaborative cleaning supplies because they are super stinky and I can catch of whiff of them every now and then! I like the Pine, Rosemary and Basil scents because I can smell them. I can also smell the honeysuckle one but it smells TERRIBLE to me… I think my sniffer is broken on that one because other people seem to like it!
The Smell Doesn't Stay
I don't know if I have to say this or not, but since I am putting all my “smelly” feelings on paper, I figured I would say this one too!
The smell goes away almost immediately… sigh. When I say I can catch a whiff of a smell, I mean just that. I can “smell” something for a second or two and then it goes away.
I breath in deeply, concentrating on smelling it… smell it… one, two… and it is gone.
I don't know if “normal” people keep smelling things, maybe that “nose blind” commercial is right and everyone stops smelling things after a bit, but for me that is everything.
I get a whiff of coffee, tell my husband, he makes a face like “so what” and then it is gone!
I thought I was going crazy with being able to catch a hint of a smell for a moment then it would be gone. You described that perfectly!! – Christine
Safety Measures When You Can't Smell
Okay, this one seems to be freaking new non-smelling people out too!
So first off, let's talk fire! I can't smell smoke at all, nope, never have. I have smoked cigarettes, sat around a campfire, heard about “smokey” smells, but that one is just not in my repertoire.
So I have smoke alarms. Duh. And change the batteries. And am kind of vigilant about not lighting things on fire.
And you can buy gas detectors to know if there is a gas leak too!
And changing babies… I can't smell poop very often, like almost never. So I just check my grandbaby's diaper A LOT. Oh and I step in poop from my dogs because I can't smell that it is right below my feet… ack!
Smelling bad food also doesn't work for me… so I make other people smell my food if I think it might have turned. If no one is around I won't eat it. Because I don't really taste or smell that much, I don't take any chances of eating something that might be bad!
Living With Anosmia FAQ
Over the years I have asked my ear nose and throat doctors about things related to my allergies or sinus infections, but I never even thought about asking about smelling. Until people with Sars Cov-2 (Covid) started talking about it, it was just part of my life! Thanks public health people for pointing out I had a problem!
Anyways, here are some answers to questions you might have (I am NOT a doctor, get medical advice from a professional… I can just tell you about how it is for me!)
Does your inability to smell make you sad?
Hmmm… this one is hard! Some things make me sad, like knowing flowers smell nice, but not being able to smell them, or not being able to smell my grandbaby.
But mostly I am just used to it. Whether it was a nasal obstruction, a “smell disorder” or other “official” thing, I just have never been a good smeller!
Should Covid peeps freak out?
Okay, so first off, no one knows if Covid symptoms, including loss of smell, are going to be temporary or permanent, so maybe take some of my ideas for now, and maybe your ability to detect odors will come back!
Never having been a Covid-19 patient (fingers crossed) just getting Covid sounds scary as hell, so give yourself some credit for having lived through that.
That said, I am generally a pretty happy-ish person (I suffer from depression, but it is not smell related!) and I get along pretty well without being a big smeller so you might too!
I’m someone who used to have an extremely sensitive nose, I could smell so much that most people couldn’t. We had covid go through our family and it was like a hefty sinus infection for me. Not horrible so I was relieved…..but my smells are almost gone. – Christine
Is it lonely not be able to smell?
Yep! It just is.
People will say, “smell this” or “that smells great” and I will think, “wait what?!?!” What is that wonderful smell?
Because no one can tell by looking at you that you can't smell, they don't know that it bothers you.
If you are trying to help a friend or loved one who can't smell, just be nice to them! If they catch a whiff of something and say, “that coffee smells”… don't give them a funny look (like Johnny still does 20 years later!)
Just tell them they are awesome for smelling ANYTHING!…:)
Smelling Weird Things
One thing I don't know about is having weird smells so here are some peeps that have responded to my article!
My issue is often I do smell an overwhelming smell of chalk or ashtray when it’s not there. I have one heavy stinky perfume that I will spray on my wrist & smell. Sometimes that breaks the chalk/ash smell and sometimes not. I’m going to try tasting salt next time that hits me!! – Christine
Living Without A Sense of Smell Wrapup
So am I telling you to “suck it up buttercup” and not be sad about having lost a super cool sense? Nope!
I am sad that that I can't smell my grandbaby the way everyone else can… supposedly her feet smell amazing… sigh.
But I am saying that if you try to adapt and have even a tiny bit of smells, you can make the most of them and really enjoy life again in a way that may have seemed out of reach!
If you have any questions I might be able to help with, email me (email@example.com) and will be happy to chat with you about your snoz!