On people who can’t smell…

02/18/2003

Last night I cooked myself a meal on my gas hob. This morning, on the way into work on the bus I became convinced that I hadn’t turned the gas off. I had to get off the bus halfway through my journey, find another bus and return home to check. Fourteen hours had passed.

For most people this kind of situation would be unthinkable. If the gas was lit – how many times would I have had an opportunity to notice the flames? If the gas was not lit, how strong must the smell get? How obvious must it have been? Except, of course, that (along with all my other freakishnesses) I have no sense of smell. Or if I do, it’s so ludicrously truncated and ineffectual as to be useless. The signals that other people take for granted just aren’t present for me.

For the most part, I’m highly suspicious of gas appliances, although it’s practically impossible to find a rental flat without them. And if you don’t believe that it’s a real issue, then I’ve got an example for you. When I lived with my ex-flatmates Kate and Mella, on at least two separate occasions they returned to the flat to find it stinking of gas. On one occasion the cooking flame had been blown out by a breeze and I simply hadn’t noticed. Not getting any heat from the hob, I’d simply assumed it was off. The flat, slowly but surely, had been filling with gas (with me in it) for getting on for fourteen hours. I’d had a terrible headache all day and had no idea why…

Here are some interesting facts (and links) about (and for) people who can’t smell (which is known as Anosmia):

  • Anosmia Foundation
    A slightly melodramatic association attempting to get Anosmia considered a disability and taken more seriously as a problem. While clearly not being able to smell does cause difficulties in life (from safety issues, food appreciation and anxiety about personal hygiene), I’ve never considered it a particularly serious problem. Maybe I should reconsider…

  • Congenital Anosmia Pages
    Most interesting for its reader feedback, where people talk about their experiences of limited or total lack of smell – the most scary ones being associated with horrific cases of food poisoning and gas leaks. I never eat anything that’s even vaguely past its sell-by date, and often throw things away even if they just look a bit dodgy.

  • Dangers and Safety Precautions Related to the Olfactory Dysfunction Anosmia
    Some interesting points here that I hadn’t fully considered: “Household cleaners can be a risk factor because the odor of the chemicals will not be noticed to warn the person that the chemicals are toxic and should be used in a well- ventilated area. Warning labels should be read as a reminder of the chemicals involved in such things as hair products, bathroom and kitchen cleaners, insecticides, etc. Our sense of smell keeps people aware of automotive troubles.”

  • Diagnostic pathways
    How to diagnose what may have caused anosmia by following a simple flow-chart.

  • The Cranial 1 Quick Sniff
    Diagnose problems with your sense of smell with this astonishingly weird smell flick-book thing. Every home should have “single-use odor presentations for the testing of olfactory function”.

  • Anosmia Yahoogroup
    An Anosmia mailing list for sufferers and their friends discussing treatments, information and providing support for those who have lost their sense of smell later in life.