Hannah's story:

Finding hope thanks to support from Fifth Sense

Hannah Martin Fifth Sense
The Covid-19 pandemic brought taste and smell disorders to public attention. Far from being trivial, conditions such as anosmia – a partial or complete loss of your sense of smellcan affect people’s ability to live independently at home.

Picture the scene. It’s Christmas, there’s turkey with all the trimmings fresh from the oven, bacon cooking and the aroma of sage from the stuffing wafting through the air.

But Hannah couldn’t smell any of the Christmas treats. Hannah had been suffering from a cold, sinusitis and laryngitis so believed she had temporarily lost her sense of smell and taste. What she didn’t know was that she would never get them back.

Hannah has anosmia and hasn’t been able to smell or taste anything since 2011. However, she didn’t realise this for many years.

It wasn’t until she started her first job as a pharmacy assistant that she realised there were plenty of things she couldn’t smell or taste, which then became a safety concern. For instance, handling anaesthetic gases – if there was a leak, Hannah wouldn’t be able to tell and could be adversely affected.

This wasn’t the only issue Hannah faced through the years. “My family and I used to go to a Turkish restaurant, and the owner had a speciality dessert: pineapple soaked in Malibu with chilli powder on top,” Hannah explains. “I ended up eating about six pieces before my mouth started feeling like it was on fire. I was mortified. I felt ashamed that I hadn’t checked – it could have been dangerous, especially with no sense of taste. I avoid spicy foods where I can now so that I don’t have another situation like that.”

While she can look back on this now and laugh, Hannah explains that there are far more dangerous situations that can arise as a result of losing your sense of taste and smell.

One evening when preparing dinner, Hannah didn’t realise the flame had gone out on the grill. She says: “My mum came running down the stairs, yelling ‘Don’t touch anything that may cause an ignition – I can smell gas on the next floor up!’ I had no idea the flame had gone out, although I’d been standing in the kitchen the entire time. I felt horrified when this happened, worrying that I could have blown up the kitchen and our neighbours’ houses. The thought of injuring all those innocent people absolutely terrified me.”


“There are people out there ready to hold out a hand and provide emotional support as and when it’s needed. I am not alone anymore.”

For years Hannah looked for a cure. She saw endless consultants who advised her to try things such as going on courses of antibiotics, taking steroids and enduring daily saltwater rinses. In a last-ditch attempt to improve her breathing – and hopefully also her sense of smell – Hannah underwent a septoplasty to straighten her septum.

Following this surgery, Hannah had to spend the next two weeks recovering. She couldn’t leave the house due to the possible risk of infection and slept upright in the lounge for the first week. “It was a hard recovery, and mentally it was even tougher,” Hannah explains. “I tried to give myself time for my recovery, but I felt so awful after the operation that I struggled to be optimistic.”

Two months after the operation, Hannah once again saw her ENT consultant. “I was informed that my airways were clearer but there was no change in my sense of smell or taste,” she explains. “The consultant told me they had exhausted all the options available to me and I was stuck with anosmia for life. They were sorry, but there was nothing else they could do for me.

“I felt any hope and optimism disappear in that moment and it seemed like all the colour drained from my life. I was alone, with nobody I could talk to who would understand. It was as though I was just going through the motions and not letting anybody see just how much I was hurting inside. Even though my parents had been incredibly supportive, they didn’t understand the despondency I would feel going into Tesco and seeing signs saying, ‘New and Improved Recipe’. I’d never be able to smell or taste, so what was the point?”

But then, Hannah discovered Fifth Sense – a charity established in 2012 with the sole aim of transforming the lives of those affected by smell and taste disorders.

Hannah says: “In a way, I was grateful for Covid bringing smell and taste disorders to the forefront. All of a sudden, these ‘invisible’ disorders that people have been living with silently were pushed into the limelight. For the first time since being diagnosed, the disorders were being more publicly researched.

“Following the pandemic, a cookbook was produced by Life Kitchen, called Taste & Flavour, which focuses on umami tastes to help inspire those with a smell and taste disorder to cook again. After reading this book, it prompted me to google charities that could help people with one of the disorders.”

Fifth Sense was one of the charities that popped up. Hannah joined its mailing list, and found its safety information, highlighting things that those with a lack of smell or taste needed to implement or install in their home. Her dad even ordered a natural gas and carbon monoxide detector on the spot!

“This renewed my confidence in being able to cook by myself once more. It enabled me to move something to my ‘I can do this independently and safely’ list, and there is no better feeling,” Hannah explains. “I have now joined a couple of group calls managed by Fifth Sense and it has blown my mind! I’ve been far better educated in why anosmia happened to me. The first call I joined even sparked a little ray of hope that at some point in the future I may be able to smell and taste again. I came off that call and cried tears of shock and joy.”

For Hannah, the most amazing part of joining Fifth Sense was being introduced to people who understand exactly how she’s feeling. “There are people out there ready to hold out a hand and provide emotional support as and when it’s needed. I am not alone anymore,” she says.

Hannah admits that having anosmia has contributed to her anxiety and depression. “There were times I felt so despondent and hopeless. But what Fifth Sense has given me is a lifeline.

“For those fortunate enough to be surrounded by a support structure, don’t be afraid to lean on it. There will be good days and bad days ahead, but it’s important to remember one thing: as part of the Fifth Sense community, you are no longer alone.”

About the PSR

The Priority Services Register (PSR) is a free service, designed to support those who need a little extra help in the event of interruptions to their gas, water or electricity supply.

If you or someone you know has extra communication, access or safety needs, signing up to the PSR will help you to access the best possible service at all times and to feel safe and independent at home.

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