I have this crazy-wacko olfactory sense. It's, like, bionic, and it drives my husband nuts.
Wherever we go, I'm always wrinkling my nose and asking, "What's that smell?' And he says, "What smell? I don't smell anything."
And I say, "Oh, my god, it's disgusting!" And he says, "You are just completely insane, for Pete's sake.'
I'm not. I'm hypersensitive. So there.
But there's something more serious than getting too much of a whiff: the problem of getting too little. A diminished ability to smell is frustrating and difficult to treat, and has myriad causes.
Olfactory deprivation can have psychological ramifications, given that scents evoke all kinds of emotions - positive ones for fresh-baked cookies or fields of flowers and negative ones from farts and smelly feet.
And smell is so tightly linked to memory, it's a shame to have it impaired.
What the experts say
"Three-quarters of those who come to us for counselling [on loss of smell] have signs of depression. They worry that they can't smell their environment any more, or their spouses or children. Other complaints are related to eating and food. When you eat in company and can't appreciate the food, it has an impact on sociability. There could be an impact on memory access, but we have no data on that - there's been relatively little research. When it comes to loss due to viral infection, women are affected much more frequently than men. Interestingly, women are more psychologically affected by the loss. For men it's not that important; women really suffer."
THOMAS HUMMEL, professor, Smell and Taste Clinic of the ENT department, University of Dresden, Germany
"Distortion is associated with the loss of smell and taste. The brain reacts to the loss, trying to reconfigure itself, creating something like a phantom limb. The major causes of loss of smell are viral infection, endocrine and trace metal disorders, head injuries and allergic rhinitis. When people complain of loss of smell to physicians, they find it difficult to get understanding, much less treatment. We need ways of measuring taste and smell in a quantitative manner, and are in the process of developing those. There are drugs that can be used, and for the distortions we've developed a set of strategies using a magnetic field to stimulate the brain ."
ROBERT HENKIN, director, Taste and Smell Clinic, Washington, DC
"In Chinese medicine, the sense of smell is associated with the lungs. If the lung chi is strong, the nose will be open, respiration easy and the sense of smell normal. If lung chi is weak, that's associated with immune issues. The nose can be blocked by heat in the lungs, as in bronchitis or other infections. If the digestive system is sluggish, it produces mucous that goes to the lungs and nose. This can become allergic rhinitis. Acupuncture can be effective at unblocking the nose. Long-term solutions require looking at systemic problems."
KALEB MONTGOMERY, Chinese medicine practitioner, Toronto
"The sense of smell affects our endocrine and hormonal systems. Sometimes we don't even realize we're using it. It affects our sex drive. It's the last thing that dies when we die. To help with loss of smell, I would suggest an Ayurvedic cleansing with salt water, then working with aromatherapy and essential oils. That way you can feel the sense in your brain even if you don't actually smell it. You can feel the coolness of the [essential oils] and hopefully get an awakening. Whether or not it can repair loss of smell depends, of course, on the individual damage."
JAN BENHAM, aromatherapist, Toronto