Losing The Sense Of Smell
Inspirational women

Losing the sense of smell – a shocking experience

What aromas have you enjoyed today? For me, I woke to the smell of baking as my daughter made some muffins. It is so easy to take our senses for granted. Today I share a guest post from Chrissi as part of my series about women who have overcome adversity. She tells us about losing her sense of smell and how this made her feel. Be inspired by how she took this experience and set up a charity to help others.

Losing the sense of smell

That summer, I had visited a favourite mountain spot on a hot day. I stopped the car to admire the view. Above me, tall stands of pine trees created a shaded presence, with a cool downdraft that was woodsy, resinous, and earthy. Below me were meadows and fields. From the valley I could smell the heady summer cocktail of hay and pollen, rising up on a warm draft. Those two beautiful smells of the outdoors, which tied me in place and time to a place I loved, were the last smells I remember smelling.

The next day I caught a cold and when I recovered, my sense of smell was gone. Losing my sense of smell changed my life.

My story started on that summer day in 2012. I was in my 50’s, just finishing a decade of caring for my parents who were at the end of their lives. They lived in the States, and my home is in the UK, so transatlantic commuting, along with looking after my husband, grown children, home and dogs made my life full and busy. I loved my garden, being outdoors, cooking.

Losing The Sense Of Smell

The forgotten sense

Smell is the forgotten sense. It is the one least prized and also the one least understood by scientists. A recent survey in Australia of university students found that given a choice between losing their sense of smell and their phone, the students would opt to keep their phones. Scientists still do not understand the precise mechanism through which we smell. Drs Axel and Buck in 2004 were able to map out most of the olfactory process, but there are still pieces missing to the puzzle. Back in the doctor’s office, treatments for smell disorders still lag terribly behind, both in terms of possible interventions but also doctor’s attitudes to patients who express such profound bereavement in losing their sense of smell. Most often patients are told: you’ll get used to it.

Women have a more acute sense of smell than men. There are theories on this—we need an acute sense of smell to form a bonding relationship with our babies—but in practical terms our noses are important to us for a variety of reasons. In identifying a sick child, checking for spoiled food, finding the source of a pet accident. Scientists know that when choosing a mate, we can sniff out partners who have a different genetic makeup than we do, a mechanism that helps us produce healthy offspring.

We are not aware of all the ways we are affected by smell. Our brains are constantly picking up information about our environment through our noses, and storing this information, even when it is on a subconscious level. Here’s a great example: if you were to revisit your first school, when you walked through the door you would immediately be taken back in time—by the smell. You won’t remember making a note of what the building smelled like when you were young but when you smell it again, you will be right there in place and time. We know that memories and smell processing take place in the same part of the brain, the limbic system, and this is also the centre of our emotions. To have a strong smell memory like the one I’ve used here, there needs to be an emotional component to the story. You will never remember your car registration number using smell.

Personality change

My sense of smell was gone, and within a few short months I felt my personality change. I was not just sad that I could not taste my food or smell the flowers in my garden. I felt bereaved. I felt disassociated from the world, my loved ones, even from myself. I felt like I had been thrown in a dungeon and someone had thrown away the key. I can still hear the voice of the doctor who told me “you’ll just have to get used to it” and remember the feeling of my stomach turning over and the sound of a key turning in a lock. I would be separate from the world forever.

My smell loss, at first, was total. This is called anosmia. Coffee and tea were like hot water. Food tasted like cardboard. There were no seasons, and life felt completely flat and without colour. But within a few months, a new horror emerged: strange unearthly smells that could not be described. They were with me constantly, and soon they were making the smell of food unbearable. I found out that this condition was called parosmia. These new smells were at first a nuisance and then a plague, turning coffee, onions, meat and other foods into something more like sewage, putrid and rotten. I could hardly force myself to eat, and cooking or going to the grocery store were impossible. I lost weight, I lost interest in life. I considered suicide. I saw no way of escape.

Abscent charity

Seven years on, I’m here to tell the tale. I’m also here to spread the word, and to do that I started a charity called AbScent. My goal as a charity was to provide a resource for others that was not available to me. Somewhere to share my grief. Get reliable information. Learn about the very latest in scientific treatments, or where studies were being conducted that I might participate in. I learned about a technique called smell training which was a life saver for me. This is a major part of AbScent’s offering to our community. I’ve also developed a smell training app called Snif, which is available for free to members of AbScent. And perhaps the achievement that I am most proud of: AbScent is a partner in two important research projects with several universities. One of them, with the University of Reading, seeks to find a molecular basis for parosmia. The other, called the Sense of Smell Project, we are doing in collaboration with one of the world leading research centres for smell disorders.

I made a choice back in 2012. I could lie down and give up or rise up keep going forward. I’m moving forward with AbScent. And I’m pretty well recovered, too.





Have you experienced losing the sense of smell?


Losing The Sense Of Smell

Musings Of A Tired Mummy
My Random Musings

Award-winning writer, blogger, social media consultant and charity campaigner. Social Media Manager for BritMums, the UK's largest parent blogging network Freelance clients include Firefly Communications and Save the Children UK. Works with brands on marketing projects. Examples include Visit Orlando, Give As You Live, Coca-Cola and Kodak. Cambridge Law graduate with many years experience working across three sectors in advice, media relations, events, training and project management. Available for hire at affordable rates.


  • Kim Carberry

    We all think about going deaf or blind but never losing our smell. How awful. I am glad this woman is still here to tell her story. The only time I’ve lost my smell is if I have a bad cold. A few days without it is bad enough. x

  • Victoria

    Wow. I didn’t know this existed and it must be so strange. We definitely take being able to smell for granted. It’s great it’s been turned into a positive to help others going through the same with AbScent – very clever name. Great read.

  • simplysensationalfood

    That must have been a very traumatic experience . I can’t imagine something like that happening as we friend on those senses totally.

  • Erika Swafford

    I’ve gone through this myself — it is frustrating and scary. It takes so long to heal from this condition and progress seems very slow. One specialist told me to do smell training and it really seemed to help bring many of the normal smells back. It’s been 2 years since the virus that cause this condition and most of my sense of smell has returned – about 90% I’d say. There are still some things that don’t smell right or I can’t detect the scent at all. I feel lucky that I’ve gotten most of it back. The AbScent Facebook group is very supportive and helpful. I highly recommend for anyone who has this condition.

  • tiredbutcraftymummy

    I have a very weak sense of smell. People will say doesn’t your Christmas tree smell lovely, doesn’t Susan’s perfume smell nice, the dinner smells delicious, etc but I can’t smell any of it. It’s something I’ve just got used to I guess. #StayClasyMama

  • mummyofasquarepeg

    I had sinusitis for over a month once and it was awful not being able to taste anything. I couldn’t be bothered to eat, I just lived on crackers and butter. I felt there was no point in eating anything nice it seemed pointless. I hope you manage to get some of it returned. #StayClassyMama

  • loopyloulaura

    Oh goodness, how terrible for poor Chrissi. I cannot even imagine what it would be like to lose my sense of smell, we take our health for granted so often. Thanks for linking up with #stayclassymama

  • Karen Reekie

    I actually cannot imagine not to be able to smell. It must be the strangest and hardest thing, smell is such an important sense. Thank you for sharing this. #stayclassymama

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