A recent Indian movie in Tamil language, Aruvam, was centred on a female protagonist who lacked the sense of smell. Portrayed by Catherine, the character suffers from the rare disease called anosmia.
She snacks on rotten biryani in a restaurant and even braces to bring out a carcass of a dog in a school toilet. Her struggles owing to the condition made for a sorrowful yet interesting celluloid experience, as it left the audience wondering whether such an olfactory aberration existed. Believe it or not, it does!
In real life
A study from the University of East Anglia not only adds to the knowledge about the loss of smell and associated disorders but also finds that it can have a wide range of depressing emotional impact. It affected every aspect of life. Right from day-to-day tasks to sexual intimacy with their partners, loss of smell may unleash host of hostilities and even lead to break down of relationships.
"Smell disorders affect around five per cent of the population and cause people to lose their sense of smell, or change the way they perceive odours. Some people perceive smells that aren't there at all," said Carl Philpott, co-author of the study.
Anosmia - The loss of smell
The partial or complete loss of the ability to smell, known as Anosmia, can be temporary or permanent. Temporary anosmia is caused by the irritation to the inner-lining of the nose due to a cold or an allergy. Permanent forms may be caused by neurological conditions such as Alzheimer's disease.
In many cases, the loss of smell is also accompanied by a loss of flavour. "Most patients suffer a loss of flavour perception which can affect appetite and can be made even worse if distortions in their sense of smell also co-exist," Philpott said.
Various aspects of life severely affected
For the study, the researchers partnered with the Smell and Taste Clinic at the James Paget University Hospital, Gorleston-On-Sea. It had 71 participants aged between 31 and 80. Fifth Sense, a charity that works with people affected by taste and smell disorders, collaborated for the study.
The researchers found that those suffering from these disorders experienced certain loss of their quality life. Some of them failed to carry out daily functions, while many felt isolated. It also had impacted their physical health, damaged their relationships with family or friends. They could not seek financial help and often ended up in negative emotional feelings.
As shown in the film 'Aruvam', the inability to smell can pose life-threatening accidents in the event of a fire or a gas leak. Philpot adds another angle that it can affect the enhancement of life. "A large number of the participants no longer enjoyed eating, and some had lost appetite and weight. Others were eating more food with low nutritional value that was high in fat, salt and sugar - and had consequently gained weight," Philpott summed it up.
He also highlighted that some of them have lost interest in cooking food and felt discomfited to serve the food prepared by them to others.
Effects on psychological and physical health
Beyond the loss of quality of social life, lack of smell affects psychological and physical health, the researchers said. "Bonfire night, Christmas smells, perfumes and people - all gone. Smells link us to people, places and emotional experiences," said Philpott.
When it comes to personal hygiene, they cannot smell themselves and fail to bond with their infants too as they could not smell kids soiling themselves.
Philpott also drew attention to the loss sexual intimacy that the disorder may lead to. "Many participants described a negative impact on relationships - ranging from not enjoying eating together to an impact on sexual relationships."
above all, the study found that the sufferers had to experience varying forms of negative emotions such as sadness, anxiety, regret, depression, loss of confidence, anger, frustration and isolation.