I was born and grew up with a condition known as Congenital Anosmia. Of course back then, I didn't even know that this condition was considered a rare disease or even that it had a name. I simply knew that like my mother before me I was born without a sense of smell. A few weeks ago, I came across a website that talked about this condition and there were many personal accounts from people who were born with this condition. I must say I was somewhat surprised by what many of these people had to say about how being olfactory deprived affected their lives, because for the most part my experience with this condition and the effect it has had on my life seems far different than the stories I read. Before, I begin sharing my experiences with you let me first give you the few facts about this condition that I have learned.
While many people suffer from short term or even permanent anosmia due to a variety of factors including severe sinus infections, colds, smoking, or a blow to the head. Being born with out a sense of smell is actually quite rare.
Congenital anosmia is considered a trivial problem from a medical standpoint and therefore there have been few studies done to determine what causes this condition though it is believed that it can be inherited.
Although considered a trivial problem there are some real inherent dangers for people suffering from this condition. It is believed that since people with these conditions cannot smell they are more likely to succumb to smoke inhalation while sleeping, and gas fumes that the rest of the population should a pilot light go out or their home catch on fire.
They may be more subject to food poisoning since they cannot smell food that is spoiling.
People born with with congenital anosmia when they are children tend to pretend they can smell so they do not seem different from other children. Often they think that a sense of smell will develop as they get older.
In reality, and from what personal stories I have read from others and from my own experience people like me who are born with this condition find it less of handicap than people who develop the condition after having a sense of smell for part of their lives. People who once had a sense of smell often find food has no taste after losing their sense of smell and it also has been known to lower their sex drive and even result in depression.
When you think about it this makes sense. You are more likely to miss what you once had when it is gone than you are if you never had it at all. Because, I never had a sense of smell I did not have to adjust to a life without being able to smell because the adjustments were automatically a part of who I am and my life. I never felt as though I needed to compensate because I never knew I was compensating.
To me not being able to smell was just something that made me a unique individual like the color of my hair or eyes. I simply wasn't something I thought about in any meaningful way, at least not when I was younger. In my teens and early 20s is when my lack of being able to detect odors became a big deal for me. This is the time when most girls and young women are especially concerned about hygiene and smelling good. For almost a decade I became overly concerned about body odor and somewhat obsessive. Since I could not smell and did not want to smell bad to other people I would often shower 5 or 6 times a day, used massive amounts of deodorants and not only brush my teeth and gargle 5 to 6 times a day but would constantly eat breath mints.
If tried on a shirt for school and decided not to wear it, I immediately threw it in the dirty clothes if it touched by body because I was afraid that even wearing something for 30 seconds would make it smell like old sweat. I could not even buy a bottle of perfume or shampoo without taking someone along to smell it for me.
As I got older the obsession got to be less, but I still am comfortable sometimes getting too close to people I don't know.
On the other hand I also discovered that my sense of taste is far sharper than most people's who have a sense of smell. I can often taste gas from a gas stove when the pilot light has gone off before most people can smell it. I also discovered that I cannot eat rare or even medium rare meat because I can actually taste the blood, the taste of which makes me quite ill. Growing up it also surprised me that often times people could not taste the difference between chicken and turkey as the two flavors were quite different to me and I find that I can eat foods and really enjoy them with no seasons at all because my sense of taste seems to be sharper than most peoples. I also find that I am incredibly sensitive to hot spices and even often find pepper makes food totally unpalatable to me.
There is an upside to not having a sense of smell. When people flee a room because someone passes gas, I have no idea what they are running from. I also can drive with my car windows down and don't have to worry about that dead skunk along the side of road.
Probably the hardest thing about having congenital anosmia is that no one who can smell understands what life is like for those of us who do. They keep insisting that we are missing out on so much in life and perhaps we are. Though in my case I feel some of my other senses have compensated for the one I do not have and therefore, I sometimes wonder what my non anosmia friends may be missing as well.
Personally though I do consider congenital anosmia a condition, I find myself offended that it is labeled a disease. If anything, for those of us who have this condition it simply a part of our lives and not something we dwell on.