Fifth Sense

We catch up with the charity Fifth Sense to find out how they support people who have lost their sense of smell.

Words: Jennifer Dow

Can you imagine losing your sense of smell? For some of us, we experienced how losing this essential sense impacts many aspects of our lives during the COVID pandemic. Those of us unfortunate to catch the disease perhaps suffered from the symptom of losing our smell. If you were one of those people, you would have found that food became suddenly tasteless. But can you imagine living with this forever?

Over six year ago, Duncan Boak formed the charity Fifth Sense after losing his sense of smell. Duncan's loss was sudden, and it was his personal experience of finding little support, little information, and being told by his doctor that nothing could be done and just live with it that drove Duncan to form this uniquely special charity.

Duncan started on a journey to learn more about how this loss impacts people and found that his story was not unique. His passion for supporting those going through a similar journey to him and his strive to educate the world came across instantly in our chat. The charity is now leading the way with clinicians and patients from around the globe visiting their website to seek out the in-depth resources available. 

Duncan told me that there are many reasons why someone can experience a loss of smell, including exposures to chemicals, head injuries, viral infections, nasal disorders and having no sense of smell at birth. However, what links them together is the emotional impact this has on their lives. Duncan told me, "Smell gives us an emotional connection to the world, and those without smell can feel like their happiness is removed and find it hard to be excited about things. Our sense of smell connects us to memories, places, and the people around us; the impact of this loss starts a journey of complex emotions."

Get Involved

Similar to all charities, Fifth Sense has a fantastic team of nationwide volunteers who get involved in various aspects of helping the charity achieve its dreams. The charity aims to support people through their journey and champion and empower those who suffer from all conditions affecting the sense of smell. The team consists of those with lived experience of this loss and those who are simply passionate and recognise the importance of the charity's work. Volunteers provide each other with mutual support, fundraise and participate in educational activities.

Find out more




Smell and taste disorders

  • Anosmia – the total inability to smell that can be acquired or congenital (someone born without the ability to smell)
  • Hyposmia – the reduced ability to smell
  • Parosmia – the distortion of smells that are unpleasant
  • Euosmia – the distortion of smells that are pleasant
  • Phantosmia – smell hallucinations – detecting smells that are not present
  • Hyperosmia – a heightened ability to smell
  • Ageuisa – the total inability to taste (super-smeller)
  • Dysgeusia – distorted tastes
  • Hypogeusia – reduced ability to taste
  • Hyperquesia – a heightened ability to taste (super-taster)

Smell and taste disorders can affect people in different ways. Common consequences include:

  • Anxiety over safety issues (such as gas, smoke or rotten food), hygiene and isolation from social events that involve food and drink.
  • Loss of intimacy with close family members.
  • A reduced interest and enjoyment of food that may lead to weight changes.
  • All of this can lead to feelings of depression and desperation.