The loss of the sense of smell that affects one in twenty people affects almost every aspect of daily life, from personal hygiene to the loss of sexual intimacy and the breakdown of personal relationships.
A new study by the University of East Anglia’s Norwich Medical School shows that almost every aspect of life is affected by the loss of smell. Researchers hope to motivate doctors to take the loss of smell more seriously so they can offer better care and support to patients. Results of the study were published in the journal Clinical Otolaryngology.
Olfactory disorders affect about 5% of the population and cause people to lose their sense of smell or change their perception of it. Nasal polyps are one of the most common causes of loss of smell. “There are many causes: infections, injuries, neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s, or some side effects of medications,” writes Carl Phillipott, lead author of the study.
Not aware of dangers
Previous scientific studies have shown that people who have lost their sense of smell also report high levels of depression, anxiety, isolation and relationship difficulties. However, little is known about the everyday effects of the loss of smell. The researchers wanted to know more and conducted a study with 71 participants aged 31 to 80, which provided some important insights.
Participants noted the negative emotional impact and sense of isolation associated with the loss of smell, as well as everyday problems with functioning, physical health, and difficulties in seeking medical care. Another characteristic element of the loss of the sense of smell was the perception of danger. For example, participants noted that they could no longer tell that food had spoiled, nor did they smell gas or smoke. According to Carl Philpott the lead researcher in the study, the sense of smell not only saves lives but also improves them.
A changed appetite and forgotten memories
Appetite was one of the most frequent elements found in the feedback from study participants. Some said they no longer liked to eat and were losing weight, while others were eating foods of low nutritional value, high in fat, salt and sugar, and as a result were gaining weight. “Participants lost interest in cooking and some said they were too embarrassed to serve food to family and friends, which affected their social life,” says Carl Filipott.
Another issue caused by the loss of smell is the inability to link smells to happy memories such as Christmas, perfume or people. “Smells connect us to people, places and emotional experiences. People who have lost their sense of smell are missing out on all the memories that smells could evoke” says the researcher.
Feelings of frustration, anger, and anxiety
Hygiene is another important problem caused by this olfactory disorder. Participants explained that they no longer smell and therefore cannot tell what they are emitting, which causes them anxiety and embarrassment. In addition, parents of young children can no longer know when their child is dirty and therefore can no longer care for their newborn as they would like. “One mother explained that she found it difficult to bond with her new baby because she didn’t smell her,” says Carl Filipott.
All these problems that build up create feelings of anger, anxiety, frustration, and even depression that affect their emotional and social life. Lack of knowledge about these effects, especially among health professionals, increases the sense of isolation among these people. As a result of this study the researchers in association with the Fifth Sense, a charity for people with smell and taste disorders are hoping to bring this issue to the surface.