Living with anosmia 2

I was recently watching the very cool INXS mini-series of TV when I learnt that lead singer, Michael Hutchence had suffered anosmia following an assault[1].

Having acquired the condition myself, I was curious to learn that it had caused him to spiral into depression and self-medication due to losing his sense of smell and taste. It made me wonder, how can a major life event challenge me to re-shape my perception of a negative situation?

What is anosmia?

Imagine not being able to smell red roses or the aroma of oven baked bread. Picture never being able to wake up to smelling freshly brewed coffee ever again. This is a sad fact of life for me, and others with anosmia. I have my moments where I wish I could smell the perfume of the roses at my front window when they are in full bloom, or the sweet scent of my newborns hair.

The loss of ability to perceive smell is referred to as ‘Anosmia’. The sense of smell originates from the olfactory nerves which sit at the base of the brain’s Frontal Lobes, right behind the eyes and above the nose. [2]

Out of the five senses, smell is often viewed as the least important. It is often only when the sense is gone or severely diminished, that we come to appreciate its importance to our quality of life.  What this means that often it is viewed as a trivial condition and there seems to be a lack of support and empathy.

The moment I found out I had anosmia 

Anosmia is defined as the inability to perceive odour, or in other words a lack of functioning olfaction[3]. I first experienced anosmia following waking up in ICU from traumatic brain surgery for clipping of two cerebral aneurysms. The neurosurgery fellow opened a breakfast sachet of vegemite and asked me to smell it. I looked at the sachet, smelled its contents, and asked, “what is that, chocolate?”

Learning to live with it

I had heard before that once you lose one sense, your other senses become more heightened. I have learnt to adapt and use my sense of memory if I am using the gas cooker, or remind myself to check the babies’ every hour for soiled nappies. This hasn’t required more effort, it in fact has become second nature.

How it has changed me

Apart from the obvious loss of smell, for me this experience has taught me that in life living with conditions that can impact on our day-to-day activities can actually alter another facet of our lives and maybe even improve it. A common belief is that if recovery is to occur it will happen in the first three months for the majority of people with anosmia. For others recovery may occur gradually over a number of years. [4]  I have found an ability to smell again, by learning how to open  my mind to understanding alternatives to a true sense of smell. By opening my mind I have developed an unusual course for a particular action. Altering perception has truly opened my mind.




[2] Callahan, D. D., & Hinkebein, J. H. (2002). Assessment of Anosmia After Traumatic Brain Injury: Performance Characteristics of the University of Pennsylvania Smell Identification Test. The Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation, 17, 251-256.


[4] Wrightson, P., & Gronwall, D. (1999). Mild Head Injury: A Guide to management. New York, US: Oxford University Press (IN BIAQ LIBRARY)

About Dinethra Menon

Dinethra Menon is a freelance medical writer based in Sydney with over a decade of medical communications expertise. She has a Bachelor of Science from the University of Melbourne and a post graduate diploma in genetic counselling.

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