Anosmia, the silence of a sense
We shine the spotlight on an often misunderstood disability that is making a big comeback on the media scene due to COVID-19: anosmia.
Composed of osmê which means “smell” in ancient Greek and the privative prefix an —, this word literally means “without smell”.
As its name suggests, it therefore characterizes people who do not have a sense of smell. A loss that may seem, at first glance and for the majority of people, secondary, but which invalidates much more than we imagine.
During a spring evening, around a campfire organized on a suitable site and in accordance with the safe practice of pyrotechnics, your cousin offers you a game of “dilemmas”. From the first question, this sacrilege gives you a difficult choice: "Which do you prefer between losing your sight or your sense of smell?" »
Throw me, without further ado, the first stone if you answered on this starry night: "the view".
Eh yes ! Misunderstood and neglected, olfaction is relegated to the rank of dispensable sense. But can we really blame the men and women of today? We no longer live in a primitive society where the nose had to be sharpened to prevent potential dangers. Result ? Our organ has slightly rusted over time. Even without going back so far, the intellectuals of modern times seem just as responsible as societal evolution. By considering the sense of smell as a sense of bestiality, desire and instinct, basically the one that shamefully and inevitably sends us back to our animal nature, they cheerfully contributed to the deleterious vision that we can have of it.
So, after so many years of castigating our noses, the moment inevitably comes when the sense of smell ends up being abandoned. In particular, it can be found in 6th place (out of 8 please, all is not lost) in the ranking of the most useful senses according to the study carried out by the City University of London. As an indication, the 7th and 8th places are respectively occupied by nociception (perception of pain) and thermoception (perception of temperature).
In fact, you may not have known it, but by sacrificing the sense of smell during the game of dilemmas, you have also condemned that of taste since by retro-olfaction they are often inseparable. Two for one? It's not all that pragmatic.
If this reductive vision of olfaction does not generally pose any problem, except for professionals in the sector, it nevertheless becomes much more troublesome when it is integrated into the spectrum of health. Indeed, today, total anosmia* is not recognized as a disabling disease. An aberration when one is closely interested in the consequences it can generate.
First, the lack of a functional and daily alarm system: to warn of expired foods to avoid poisoning or to alert on the smell of smoke, gas and other dangers.
Then, we observe a decrease in the quality of life with the loss of the pleasure of eating or the inability to enjoy pleasant scents.
Finally, there is the insecurity that this situation generates on a daily basis with the impossibility of controlling one's own emanations causing identity and intimate problems.
All these consequences often lead to depression of the patient and, unfortunately in too many cases, suicide.
Let's stop advising nearly 3% of the population to "live with it". We will not raise the irony of this choice of word when it comes to a loss, but we will take offense at minimizing this illness to such an extent.
*Partial anosmia is a slightly different subject that we can cover, if you wish, in a future article.