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?