In What is Smell? 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.
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!’
Fifth Sense is working in partnership with Cadent, the UK’s largest gas distribution network, to raise awareness of the importance of the sense of smell from a gas safety perspective. For information on staying gas safe in your home visit the Cadent website.
Whilst some signs of fire/smoke are visible, smell can provide an early warning sign that those with a smell disorder are unable to rely upon. Having smoke detectors installed and regularly tested are important for everyone – in the UK, the local fire service can provide these or they can be purchased in most general stores and supermarkets or online.
When cleaning using products such as bleach, disinfectant and aersol sprays, ensure you have adequate ventilation to avoid a build up of fumes that you may not detect. As one Fifth Sense member explained:
People with olfactory disorders 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 there is 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.
If you live alone and don't have anyone to help you with this, labelling food with the date you opened it can help you keep track of how fresh your food is.
As detailed in the Smell, Taste and Flavour section of this site, smell and taste are intrinsically linked. Many people affected by olfactory loss 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 to eat regularly and maintain a healthy, balanced diet.
Personal and Family Hygiene
It is worth bearing in mind that if you cannot smell other things, nor can you smell yourself or those close to you. If you have young children, worrying if you can smell a dirty nappy is normal.
From a social perspective, it is very important for people with a smell disorder to maintain good personal hygiene, for obvious reasons. Wearing natural fibres such as cotton and wool can help as they better absorb odour molecules and help keep your clothes fresher.
Paying attention to regular shower/bathing and using anti-perspirant deodorants can also help. The sensitive conversation highlighted below isn’t one any of us would want to have:
Health and Safety Tips for People with Olfactory Disorders
- Ask family and friends to be your designated nose to help you with all aspects of health, safety and care.
- Make sure you get your gas appliances serviced every year.
- Have smoke alarms in your home – install them just outside the kitchen door, on landings and stairways.
- Consider purchasing a natural gas detector – they can be sourced online by a simple google search.
- When cleaning, ensure rooms are well ventilated by opening doors/windows.
- Bathe/shower regularly and use anti-perspirant deodorant.
- Wear natural fibres where possible like pure wool, cotton or linen.
- Pay attention to how heavy babies nappies feel to ensure you change them when they need it.
- 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.
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