“Two percent of the population below 65 is essentially smell-blind; a quarter of that 2 percent was born without smell. Smell declines precipitously in old age; half of all 80-year-olds report diminished smell. An estimated half a million people annually see a doctor about olfactory problems,” writes Bonnie Blodgett in her book “Remembering Smell: A Memoir of Losing and Discovering the Primal Sense.” Also, the American Medical Association notes that the loss of a sense of smell is growing due to high stress with more than 12 million Americans believed to have some permanent impairment in their ability to smell things such as food and flowers.
Loss of a sense of smell blamed on record high stress at a time of recession in America today
“Gerontologists invariably blame depression for their patients with poor appetites,” and even their loss of smell and taste, writes Blodgett who also had a sudden loss of smell “from a single use of an over-the-counter nasal spray.”
Doctors who’ve treated Christopher and Lea here in the central Oregon coastal town of Florence think their recent and sudden loss of smell is due to “high stress.”
In fact, an Aug. 28 report from Stone Hearth News states that “an increasing number of workers are using medical services to cope with job stress, according to a study by Concordia University economists. Total health care expenditures in the U.S. amount to $2.5 trillion, or $8,047 per person. That represents 17.3 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.”
Loss of sense of smell can lead to “Phantosmia,” a constant stench of disgusting stuff
“The odor was sickly sweet, and I admitted to myself why it was more than a mild annoyance. It didn’t smell like hog dung, dead fish, sour milk, sulfur, smoke, or musk as much as it smelled like death. Rotting flesh. Roadkill. Carrion is the polite term. It smelled the way Amorphophallus titanium (a.k.a. the corpse flower) smells when it opens,” writes Blodgett in her book “Remembering Smell.”
Blodgett goes on to write that “the stench” was related to her loss of smell, and doctors told her that millions of other Americans have to deal with it.
“Roughly 1–2 percent of people in North America say that they have a smell disorder and what’s been called as ‘Phantosmia.’ Problems with smell increase as people get older, and they are more common in men than women. In one study, nearly one-quarter of men ages 60–69 had a smell disorder, while about 11 percent of women in that age range reported a problem,” stated a recent report by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD).
The NIDCD also notes that “both smell and taste disorders are treated by an otolaryngologist,” a doctor who specializes in diseases of the ear, nose, throat, head, and neck.
How Blodgett lost her sense of smell, and how millions of others also lose it
“In the fall of 2005, my nose stopped working. I'd inhaled a zinc-based gel called Zicam to prevent a cold. The cold was unfazed and I spent a week stuffed up and miserable. A week later I noticed a funny smell. Soon I was overwhelmed by unaccountable odors, unfortunately all of them vile. Was I going mad? An ear, nose, throat specialist knew immediately that the odors were olfactory hallucinations. I wasn’t making them up—my brain was. He prescribed an old-fashioned antidepressant that would ‘trick’ my brain into letting up on the odiferous onslaught of burning flesh, rotting fish, feces, and the like. Sure enough it worked. One morning I awoke with a clear head. I couldn't smell a thing. Now I was faced with an entirely new problem: anosmia. Imagine a world devoid of scent. No lilacs perfuming the air in spring. No telltale smoky smell when the house is on fire. No hint that dinner’s ready. No taste of dinner either. Taste is ninety percent smell. When you’re anosmic, food is fuel. Would my nose get well? Only time would tell,” writes Blodgett in her new book “Remembering Smell.”
Moreover, “Remembering Smell” segues from basic genetics to the biology that drives food and appetite, sex and love.
A marketing pitch for the book also notes how “it offers a cultural history of smell, chapters on language and literature, and the latest research on illnesses caused by inhaled substances, not just cold remedies but bacteria, air pollutants, cleaning products, and anything else that enters the brain through the nasal passages. Such substances are now believed to play a role in Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and other neurological disorders, as well as cancers and some infectious diseases.”
Computers can’t smell, and thus there’s no underlying logic about how humans can smell
“To understand smell, you first have to understand its primacy in human evolution,” writes Blodgett. “Smell is millions of years older than Homo sapiens, older even than man’s most ancient ancestor, that nameless creature that first blundered onto land from the sea and in so doing made use of one of those evolutionary add-ons, a nose that could detect odor molecules in air as well as water.”
Also, “smell scientists” note that “evolution has produced in humans an excellent overall sense of smell and, combined with taste and other inputs, humans still have the best sense of flavor in the animal world.”
In addition, there are reports from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) that “radically new treatments for a range of disorders may be on the horizon thanks to recent smell research.”
The NIDCD maintains a directory of organizations that can answer questions and provide printed or electronic information about hearing, balance, smell, taste, voice, speech, and language. This directory is available at www.nidcd.nih.gov/directory.
Image source of the Human olfactory system. 1: Olfactory bulb 2: Mitral cells 3: Bone 4: Nasal epithelium 5: Glomerulus (olfaction) 6: Olfactory receptor cells: Wikipedia