In the What is Smell? section of the site we looked at how our sense of smell acts as an early-warning system for our bodies. Given that smell disorder sufferers often lack this ability, we felt it important to provide some advice and guidance from a safety perspective.
Potentially the greatest danger posed to anosmia sufferers is caused by something used daily in many homes, in fires, cookers and boilers. Natural gas is virtually odourless, so a very small amount of an unpleasant smelling chemical is added so that humans can detect its presence. This, of course, is of little use to someone who does not have the ability to detect odours. One of our members gives us the following account to illustrate the potential dangers:
‘The flat I was living in at the time had a gas oven. You did have to be careful with it as the flame would sometimes blow out if the door was closed too quickly. On this particular evening my flatmate and I had cooked dinner, prior to heading off on separate nights out. Whether one of us had not turned the oven off properly and the flame had gone out I don’t know.
I arrived home a good few hours later that night, before my flatmate. I remember going down the corridor and into the kitchen to get a beer out of the fridge with an unlit cigarette in my mouth. It is fortunate that not only did we always keep the kitchen door closed (it being off a stairwell shared with another flat and therefore separate from the bedrooms and front room) but also that I didn’t light the cigarette. When I spoke to my flatmate the next day he told me that when arriving home he could smell the gas from the entrance to the building – down two flights of stairs and along a corridor – despite the kitchen door being closed.
It was rather scary to realise just how close I had come to probably blowing up not only myself but the people in the flats above and below. Although I still live in a flat that has gas, I am far more careful about checking the oven is turned off properly, and that fact that I do live with someone else means that they can be my surrogate nose!’
Anosmia sufferers also face problems when it comes to storing and eating food. Without smell to act as an indicator of when something is starting to turn bad, anosmia sufferers run the risk of sickness or food poisoning. There are of course visual signs such as discolouration that indicate when food has started to go off, but smell is usually the first warning signal. As one anosmia sufferer who contacted Fifth Sense said:
‘I have to depend on others to smell for me. I ate something bad recently and got sick.’
As detailed in the Smell, Taste and Flavour section of this site, smell and taste are intrinsically linked. Many anosmia sufferers are, therefore, unable to detect much (if not all) of the flavour in the food they eat, which can result in loss of appetite. Some regularly forget to eat at all. This can result in health problems such as weight loss and malnutrition. It is very important for anosmia sufferers to eat regularly and maintain a healthy, balanced diet.
Whilst not strictly a health concern, it is worth bearing in mind that if you cannot smell other things or people, nor can you smell yourself. From a social perspective then, it is very important for anosmia sufferers to maintain good personal hygiene, for obvious reasons!
Health and Safety Tips for Anosmia Sufferers
– If you live in a property with a gas supply, it might be worth getting a natural gas detector fitted. If you live in the UK then visit the website of the Carbon Monoxide and Gas Safety Society for information on how to obtain one.
– Make sure you get your gas appliances serviced every year.
– Ensure that you pay attention to ‘use-by’ dates on food.
– Try labelling open cartons or packs of food in the refrigerator with the date on which you opened them.
– If you live with someone who is able to detect odours normally, ask them to smell food for you.
– If in doubt, throw it out!
– Remember to eat regularly, and set reminders on your watch, phone etc if need be.
– Monitor your weight in case it declines due to loss of appetite.
– Eat a healthy, balanced diet.
– Explore different foods and ways of cooking them. Create dishes that make use of interesting combinations of texture and colour. Use ingredients that stimulate the taste buds – salty, bitter, sweet and sour – and use spices to add interest.