Fifth Sense is a UK-based group set up to support people whose lives are affected by anosmia – the inability to detect odours. To date very little support has existed for anosmia sufferers and there is a general lack of recognition and awareness of the condition 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 but in up to 20% of cases no specific cause can be identified.
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 smell loss can be attributed to a number of causes, much work needs to be done before any cures are developed.
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 anosmics will testify. Past studies have reported that 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 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 is a patient-led group, formed by anosmia sufferer Duncan Boak in 2012. Duncan lost his sense of smell as the result of a severe head injury in 2005 and set up Fifth Sense with the aim of it becoming the first registered charity within the UK to support smell and taste disorder sufferers and educate all on the role that the sense of smell plays in our lives.
What can you do?
If you are an anosmia sufferer who, 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
- To raise awareness of anosmia amongst both the medical profession and general public
- Educate and help broaden understanding amongst people on the role that our sense of smell plays and the impact it has on our lives
- To provide support and advice to anosmia and taste disorder sufferers, and act as a signpost to patients seeking treatment
- To act as a base for promoting and facilitating research into the condition
Although Fifth Sense has been set up primarily for UK smell and taste disorder sufferers, we welcome 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