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What If You Couldn’t Taste or Smell Anything?

What If You Couldn’t Taste or Smell Anything?

Years ago I was hit with a horrendous sinus infection that, while providing punishing sinus pain and congestion, also rendered my senses of taste and smell virtually kaput. Due to the fact I could neither taste or smell much of anything, I lost a bit of weight and found significantly less joy in my life. Although my symptoms were fairly temporary, it was around this time that I learned about (thanks to some miserable Googling) the prevalence of more permanent disorders that leave some people without the ability to smell or taste anything for long periods or time, or sometimes for the rest of their lives.

No matter how or what you are eating, we gain a lot of pleasure, as well as information, from being able to taste and smell. Eating is obviously essential for our survival, and without taste and smell, eating loses nearly all of its pleasure and becomes solely about masticating and swallowing. It is estimated that one in 20 people worldwide struggle with some sort of olfactory disorder that either greatly limits or pretty much destroys their ability to taste and smell. This can be caused by anything from chronic sinusitis to a brain injury, and sadly renders sufferers unable to derive the same enjoyment (or information) from day to day experiences like tasting smelling cut grass or tasting an apple. Despite the prevalence of such disorders, they largely exist as a sort of silent misery that rarely is treated or observed in the media, with the exception of this great video document on the subject that ran on the New York Times website last year. Another exception is UK physician Carl Philpott, who specializes in such disorders and runs one of the only clinics dedicated to treating them. In a recent interview with The New Scientist, Philpott spoke on the serious nature of the subject:

“The tongue only detects the basic tastes of salt, sweet, bitter, sour, and umami—which is a savory, hearty taste. It’s the nose that provides you with the flavor of food. Loss of smell, and with it any experience of food flavor, is quite devastating. Coming to terms with the loss of an entire sense or even two often leads to other difficulties—including depression and thoughts of suicide.”

While I live everyday thankful and appreciative of the fact that I can taste and smell (especially after spending a week in deprivation) I feel for the people who walk the earth with that depth of experience stricken from their reality.

Has anyone struggled with such a disorder? And if so, how have you found your way through it?

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.


+ add your own
7:26AM PDT on May 29, 2013

Thanks for the article.

2:35AM PDT on May 29, 2013

Thanks for this information.

3:27AM PDT on May 24, 2013

Thank you :)

7:41AM PDT on May 22, 2013

That would be terrible but just maybe humans would eat more veggies+fruits, given how pretty they are+lay off the ugly looking meats+fish!

5:40AM PDT on May 22, 2013

Thanks for sharing.

9:09AM PDT on May 21, 2013

Thank you for sharing.

4:42AM PDT on May 21, 2013

Thanks for the article. I hope this will never happen to me...

12:42PM PDT on May 20, 2013


10:05AM PDT on May 20, 2013

Yikes! :(

9:02PM PDT on May 17, 2013

I had a friend that years ago had a brain tumor removed, and ever since has lost the sense of taste and smell. He basically eats the same thing over and over, as he says it makes no difference. He says the enjoyment of eating is gone, and it is simply very boring. I would not want to be in that position.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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