Scentless Apprentice: All About Anosmia

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Sometimes in meetings we are asked to share a little-known fact about ourselves as an "icebreaker." (I hate icebreakers, by the way.) But my fact is always the same and I think it's pretty interesting: I can't smell. Now, if I stick my nose right up to an open bottle of ammonia or acetone and snort, I can smell that, but that's pretty much all I can ever smell. Which might explain why we have three dogs.

I'm not really sure how this happened; neither are doctors. If I ever had a sense of smell, I was too little to remember it, so it's not like I "remember" what oranges smell like or anything like that. I had surgery to remove some polyps (really gross) when I was in eighth grade, but all that resulted in was a completely random, gushing bloody nose that ruined my brand new Z-Cavaricci shirt in the middle of Mr. Zimmerman's science class. I had to go to the nurse and she gave me a replacement t-shirt from the lost and found. I still have that t-shirt actually; sometimes I wear it to bed. But anyway...

It wasn't until college that I found out that this problem actually has a name: anosmia. It's the absence of ability to smell. Most of my friends and family forget that I can't smell on a pretty regular basis; I suppose it's not a disability that you can really see. This happens all of the time:

Stacy's Mom: "Oooh, smell this candle!"
Stacy: "¦"¦"¦"¦"¦.
Stacy's Mom: ...Oh!! WHY do I always DO that?!

My friends aren't quite as nice about it:

Stacy's friend Lisa: "Don't you just love the smell of freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies? Oh, I forgot, YOU WOULDN'T KNOW. HAHAHAHAHAAAAA!!"

It was really awkward when I worked at Sephora. People would ask me about fragrances and I didn't want to launch into this whole history about how I am unable to smell, so at first I just lied to the customers.

Customer: "What does this smell like to you?"
Stacy: "Smells"¦ vanilla"¦ish"¦ with a hint of floral"¦ and musk"¦ and citrus"¦ maybe some sandalwood? Do I detect a top note of rose hips?"

But I felt really bad about doing that, so I would just say, "Oh, I'm really stuffed up right now," and leave it at that. I was recently doing a little research on my condition and came across a few interesting facts I thought were particularly _flossy.

"¢ You can be anosmic to just one smell "“ so maybe you can smell everything else under the sun, but you absolutely cannot smell brownies. Wouldn't that be strange? Or maybe a blessing.

"¢ When people find out I can't smell, 95 percent of the time the next question is, "Can you taste anything, then?" Yep. I like things that taste really strong -- really sour, sweet, bitter, etc. I love sauerkraut right out of the can, for example. I suspect maybe I'm a congenital anosmiac (had it since birth) because it is said that those people don't have a problem with lack of taste whereas people with sudden onset anosmia often find food completely unappetizing.

anos

"¢ Notable anosmiacs include Bill Pullman, Stevie Wonder and William Wordsworth. Rumor has it that Ben Cohen of Ben and Jerry's is an anosmiac, and that's why their ice cream is often so tactile. Mmm.

"¢ Some people go undiagnosed for a long time, because as children they just pretended to smell things because they thought that it was a sense you acquired as you got older. I don't know if mine was so much a case of this "“ it was more that I didn't realize how things should smell. Kind of like the first time you get glasses you're like, "Ohhh, that's what things are supposed to look like!"

"¢ Anosmia can be a sign of Parkinson's or Alzheimer's Disease.

"¢ On a somewhat-related note, phantosmia is smelling things that aren't there, kind of like having a phantom limb. It seems to often be an unpleasant smell "“ common ones are smoke, rotting flesh, vomit and poo.

"¢ On the other hand, parosmia is when you perceive an odor wrong. So maybe the scent in reality is mint, but for some reason whenever mint is in the air you smell fish.

Any other anosmiacs out there? Or Phantosmiacs or parosmiacs or any other type of "“iacs? I'd love to hear your stories.

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March 7, 2008 - 6:53am
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