Fifth Sense is a charity set up to support people whose lives are affected by smell and taste-related disorders such as anosmia, the inability to detect odours. To date very little support has existed for smell and taste disorder sufferers and there is a general lack of recognition and awareness of such conditions amongst both the medical community and the general public. Anosmia can be present from birth (Congenital Anosmia) or can be caused by a number of local (within the nose) or systemic (affecting the whole body) issues, as described below. Common colds, chronic sinusitis and head injuries are among the most common causes of anosmia and other smell disorders but in up to 20% of cases no specific cause can be identified.
In addition to anosmia, there are other issues such as phantosmia (smelling things that aren’t actually there) and parosmia (distortions of the sense of smell). This last one can be particularly unpleasant for people affected by it – imagine every mouthful of food tasting revolting, and once-beautiful fragrances smelling offensive?
The discovery of how we detect and process odours is a relatively recent one. In 2004 Richard Axel and Linda Buck were awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine for their work in clarifying how the olfactory system works, and research is being carried out by scientists across the globe to develop this further. We are gaining a greater of understanding of olfaction and how it works, but whilst anosmia can be attributed to a number of causes, much work needs to be done before any cures are developed. That said, there are things that can be done to help, but treatment often depends upon what caused the disorder.
One of the issues faced by scientists and doctors working in this field, and patients themselves, is the aforementioned lack of awareness of the condition and the effects that it has. Losing one’s sense of smell isn’t like going blind, or going deaf. We can manage without it…can’t we?
Whilst we can indeed live life without a sense of smell, sudden and terminal loss of olfactory function can impact greatly on one’s quality of life, as many anosmia sufferers will testify. Past studies have reported that anosmia sufferers often feel cut off from the world around them, lose interest in food and eating and experience emotional blunting(1). Depression, malnutrition and weight loss can all follow. Many sufferers have experienced indifference or lack of understanding from doctors, with the phrase ‘there’s not much that can be done’ being commonly heard. One of the aims of Fifth Sense, therefore, is to provide a support base for sufferers to share their experiences and receive support and advice to help them to adjust to living with the condition.
Smell loss can be caused by head trauma, which can damage the olfactory nerve or the frontal lobes of the brain, where the olfactory bulbs are situated. It is also commonly caused by upper respiratory viral infections, nasal polyps and other nasal/sinus diseases. For more information on this visit the Anosmia and its Causes section of the site.
Taste-specific disorders are rare; most people who perceive that they have a taste disorder are usually found to be suffering from anosmia (at least 75% of the flavour of food comes from our sense of smell). However there are rare instances where taste is affected without a loss of smell. These are examined in more detail on the ‘Taste Disorders‘ page.
Who We Are
Fifth Sense was established in 2012 by Duncan Boak, who lost his sense of smell as the result of a severe head injury in 2005. Fifth Sense has grown rapidly since then and is now the first charity supporting smell and taste disorder sufferers, providing a signpost to potential diagnosis and treatment, and playing a leading role in educating society on the huge role that the sense of smell plays in our lives.
Please click here to find out about some of our achievements to date.
What can you do?
If you suffer from anosmia or any other smell/taste-related disorder and, like many of us, have received no useful information from your doctor, or have been told that nothing can be done, then please contact Fifth Sense using the email address below to find out about what options there are for gaining expert medical advice within the UK.
Fifth Sense Mission Statement
Provide support and advice to smell and taste-related disorder sufferers and act as a signpost to potential diagnosis and treatment
Raise awareness of smell and taste-related disorders, and the impact they can have on people with these conditions
Raise awareness of the role that the sense of smell plays in our lives, and play a leading role in educating society on the role and function of the senses of smell and taste
Promote, support and facilitate research into smell and taste-related disorders and into furthering understanding of the senses of smell and taste
- Engage with relevant government and health organisations to improve services for smell and taste disorder sufferers
Fifth Sense is based in the UK, but welcomes members from across the world.
(1) – Assessing the Impact of Anosmia: Review of a Questionnaire’s Findings, Van Toller, Chem. Senses 24: 705-712, 1999