Congenital Anosmia: My Life Without Smell
by Dia Kline
I started figuring out I couldn’t smell when I was four years old.
I remember coming home one day with my brother and father and, as soon as we walked in through the front door, they both exclaimed, “Spaghetti for dinner!”
I remember being very confused. I asked how they both knew we were having spaghetti for dinner when we couldn’t see the kitchen from the front door.
They instructed me to “smell.”
Thus began a very long and super unhelpful period of time where I was told to simply, “Breathe in through your nose and smell.” Kind of like telling a blind person to “Look through your eyes and see.” When I breathed through my nose that day, all I could “smell” was warm air.
After four decades of “smelling” warm air and not knowing what was wrong with me, I finally found an answer. Thanks to the internet, my mom reading Oliver Sacks’ anosmia story in the book, “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat” and my daughter’s 12th-grade psychology teacher, I learned that I am anosmic.
So What Is Anosmia, Anyway?
Anosmia is simply the loss of smell, and there are two types: acquired and congenital.
Acquired anosmia, or later onset anosmia, is much more common. People can lose their sense of smell throughout their lives and develop acquired anosmia in a variety of ways: surgery, head trauma, medication, viral infections (like COVID-19), and aging are some of the more common. Loss of smell with acquired anosmia can be temporary or permanent.
But I don’t have the typical type of anosmia. I have the super cool and rare version of anosmia called congenital anosmia, which means I was BORN without the ability to smell.
Congenital anosmia is quite rare. Less than one percent of the world’s population are anosmic from birth like me. People are born without their sense of smell for reasons science can’t fully explain. Some people have a genetic component, others do not. Some people are missing olfactory bulbs or nerves, others are not.
The bottom line, whether you have congenital or acquired anosmia, is that the end results are the same: We can’t smell. But many of us can taste.
With Anosmia, I Can Still Taste… With a Smaller Box of Crayons
Not every anosmic has the same level of tasting ability. While some anosmics can’t taste anything, others report a full experience of taste. Almost half of what a “normal" person tastes is actually a smell. You may think you’re tasting something, but your experience is actually the combination of taste and smell.
I have a pure sense of taste because I cannot confuse my olfactory sense with my sense of taste. Here’s an analogy. You get the box of 96 Crayola brand crayons with the built-in sharpener to experience taste. I only get the off-brand box of 12. It still works, it’s just... different.
One of my many titles is, "Congenital Anosmic Paleo Chef.” Yes, that’s right. I cook and I can’t smell. So how do I know my food is delicious? Because I can taste it! I also love doing taste tests with people who can smell. You can check out my congenital anosmia videos on my YouTube channel, Dia Kline, and see for yourself the fun I have tasting and not smelling.
How Lume Helps My “Designated Noses”… And Me!
I don’t spend my time wondering what things smell like. I forget that farts smell. I’ve been told plenty of times to brush my teeth or politely been told that my deodorant has failed me and, yes, I’ve even been told that now would be a good time to bathe if I wanted to get lucky.
Smelling has never been a part of my world and, to that end, it never occurs to me to think about it. When I do have to think about it, I ask my family and friends to smell me. They are my designated noses. They are required to smell and tell.
Thanks to Lume Deodorant, their lives have been changed for the better. My stink isn’t stinky anymore! (Personally I doubt I was ever stinky but I don’t think that’s an argument I can win.)
Since I’ve started using Lume Deodorant, I’ve found that I don't have to reapply it daily, which is amazing for me because I forget that stink happens. It just doesn’t occur to me that I might possibly, probably smell. Now I know for sure that I can go for three days without stinking. (My designated noses have also told me that showering is also a good thing to do during those three days, but I think they’re just being picky.)
In any case, they are thrilled that I found Lume. Oh, and one more important discovery. I figured out that, even if Lume prevents me from stinking, it won’t stop the stink from attaching to my clothes. Who knew?! Treating clothing that has lingering B.O. in it before you Lume really helps you smell even better.
When we meet, don’t worry that you had onions and coffee for breakfast because I can’t smell your breath. But do realize, I also won’t care that the watermelon I had for lunch is giving me some serious gas. All’s fair game when you live in a life without smell.
I am an actor, comedian, blogger, system hacker, rule-breaker, paleo chef and proud congenital anosmic. I am also a Public Ambassador for Fifth Sense, a UK non-profit that's focused on raising awareness and supporting people affected by smell and taste disorders across the world.
I love bringing awareness and humor to anosmia. It’s not a bummer and, yes, it should be considered a disability. I want to entertain and educate people. I love answering questions and making people laugh. I also love that Lume helps me un-stink my stink so I can be remembered for my bad breath and not my body odor.
Does Lume make toothpaste? Asking for a friend.
Want to read more about me and my life? Check out my blog: ezjoLife and follow me on Instagram Dia Kline | Rule Breaker (@ezjolife). Also, check out “Smell Story” on “The Smell Podcast”: Episode 43 - An Interview with Comedian Dia Kline, Congenital Anosmic from The Smell Podcast
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