A Podcast Creates Community for People Coping With Smell Loss
The human nose allows us to detect all manner of scents. But when the organ is impacted by viral infections, nasal polyps, and other ailments can lead to the total inability to smell—a condition known as anosmia. Its diagnosis often takes people by surprise, leaving them feeling disconnected from the world they once knew. Some have found a lifeline in The Smell Podcast, a project created by Katie Boateng—who lost her sense of smell after a viral infection in 2008—to provide resources and a safe, supportive environment for sufferers while educating listeners along the way.
Boateng started the podcast, which is dedicated to discussing symptoms, experiences, and new scientific developments related to smell loss (and the loss of taste that usually accompanies it) in 2018, 10 years into learning to navigate the world sans smell. The loss was distressing and emotionally draining, and as she adjusted to a new realm of experience, she had difficulty expressing the nuances of her struggle to others.
The podcast serves as a forum for people like Boateng, who, as the show’s host, encourages guests to talk about anosmia from their perspectives. Episodes are usually set up in an interview format, and the tone is conversational yet elevated. Guests include those with congenital anosmia (the inability to smell from birth) and acquired anosmia (the loss of the sense later in life), who release their thoughts and emotions in detail: One guest, Tsahi Hayat, talks about how he often wonders what it would be like to get a whiff of freshly cut grass or a slick parking lot after a downpour; another guest, Kristiana Carle, who lost her sense of smell due to a Covid-19 infection, describes how the condition has impacted her relationship with eating.
Other segments focus on recovering anosmics and their experience of reacclimating to their sense of smell, or unpack recent research and articles, published in outlets ranging from BuzzFeed to The Atlantic, about the condition. Boateng also speaks with leaders in the smell-loss sphere, including geneticist Danielle Reed, a founding member of the Global Consortium for Chemosensory Research, an initiative that studies the effects of respiratory illnesses such as Covid-19 on smell and taste, and Duncan Boak, founder and CEO of the Fifth Sense, a U.K.-based nonprofit that offers support for people with smell and taste disorders.
The conversations are strikingly intimate, with guests sharing personal, unfiltered stories in ways that suggest that they’ve longed to do so in front of an audience that understood where they were coming from. Boateng is especially open about her own questions and experiences: In one episode, she talks about how she burned a plate of food while heating it up in her office’s microwave—but out of politeness, no one pointed it out to her. In doing so, she’s creating a community for anosmics to connect, learn, and cope. In a landscape that was previously missing such a place, the power of The Smell Podcast is potent.