“Smell! This smells wonderful.”
“Never mind, I can’t smell.”
“Sure you can. Try,” the woman insists as she thrusts something under my nose. “It’s awesome!”
“No, really. I can’t smell.”
“Are you having a cold?”
“No, I just don’t have a sense of smell, I never had.”
Head is thrown back, eyes widen.
“But surely you can smell X?”
“No, I can’t.”
“Not even Y?”
“No, nothing at all.”
“OMG, that’s awful!” (Or, “You’re lucky!”, depending on whether the object under discussion smells good or bad.)
I understand. It takes time to take it in. It is not every day you meet someone who can’t smell spoiled food, farts, leaking gas, freshly mown grass or roses – a woman who won’t use perfume because to her it’s just expensive, colored water. Or who will drink sour milk without batting an eye. Or who is genuinely surprised when being handed a cup of freshly brewed coffee (because no wafts had given her a hint that coffee was in the making).
Types of Anosmia
In fact, until two years ago or so, I had never met another person who was also born without olfactory organs, and today I know them only thanks to Facebook. Until I came across this Facebook group, I had no clue it was a condition with a name: congenital anosmia.
The majority of people without a sense of smell are so-called acquired anosmics, meaning they lost their sense of smell later in life and (thus) have memories of smell. In most cases, the loss is the result of a head or brain injury, or a nasal condition.
The second group, congenital anosmics, constitute only one to three percent of all anosmics. The estimate is vague is because many, including myself, have never seen a physician and thus our disorder has never been registered in any system. Whereas some acquired anosmics may regain their sense of smell (either naturally or through treatment), there is no cure for congenital anosmia.