Sunday 26 January 2020

I need to be told by my partner if I've got BO, says radio presenter Kathy Clugston born with no sense of smell

Kathy Clugston. Photo: BBC
Kathy Clugston. Photo: BBC

A Belfast-born BBC Radio 4 broadcaster has revealed how she has gone through life with no sense of smell.

Kathy Clugston was diagnosed with anosmia aged 11 when her mother spotted she had failed to pick up the distinctive odour of a gas leak.

The broadcaster said up to that point, like many children with the condition, she pretended she had a sense of smell and turned her nose up in line with others.

The 41-year-old told how she also relied on her partner Jim to tell her if she had body odour, if her breath smelled or if food had gone off.

"Not everyone knows about the condition," the former pupil of Methodist College Belfast told the Radio Times. "I don't discuss it much. It's nothing to be ashamed of, though.

"Sometimes it's just too much effort to explain to people I can't smell anything. Not perfume, not BO either."

According to experts at the NHS, people with congenital anosmia have no concept of what smell is. The condition can be caused by injuries to the nose or head, and there is no cure.

"I don't remember ever being able to smell," Kathy said. "When I was a child, smelling was a game I played along with. Every time we drove past a manure-rich farm my parents would remark on the 'fine country smell' and I would enthusiastically agree.

"Someone once let off a stink bomb at my primary school. Everyone ran around gagging and retching, including the teacher. I was the only one who could stand to clean it up. Smelling was a conspiracy that I wasn't in on. It didn't occur to me that I might have a medical condition."

Kathy is set to appear in a Radio 4 documentary, The Neglected Sense, about her anosmia. During the making she had an MRI scan in the hope of discovering the cause of her condition.

As well as affecting the sense of smell, anosmia can cause a poor or altered sense of taste, with depression a common side-effect.

"Luckily for me, I can distinguish between different flavours and really enjoy my food," Kathy said. "But anosmics can find the change in eating and drinking very distressing.

"I've no idea what my partner Jim smells like. I don't have the smell of my grandmother's facepowder or perfume to remind me of her.

"Try to imagine waking up one day and not being able to smell your children's heads, the roses in your garden, the coffee brewing in your kitchen, the freshly cut grass in your garden.

"Then, that all your food tastes strange or of nothing at all. You can see why depression is common."

Famous anosmics include musician Stevie Wonder and poet William Wordsworth.

The Neglected Sense airs on April 12 at 11am on Radio 4

Belfast Telegraph

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