Sunday, 16 November 2014

I've started this blog a million times ...

In the six months since I lost my sense of smell (and particularly in the three months since it started to return in a way that's turned my life completely upside down), I've sat down to write about my life with my new disability many, many, many times, and I've scrapped every single piece (bar two, which you can read here, and here). 

Why?  I'm not entirely sure.  But I had an epiphany recently.  In a small way, admittedly, but still. Basically,  I've noticed that there is incredibly little writing on the actual experience of being a parosmic, there are very few anosmia memoirs too (the most notable is by Molly Birnbaum who wrote "Season to Taste" a few years ago, more about that in an upcoming post) come to that, but I also noticed that there is very little written about parosmia - and its sister condition phantosmia - anywhere.  Even in Avery Gilbert's magnificent book on the olfactory system: What the Nose Knows: The Science of Scent in Everyday Life, parosmia rates barely a mention outside of one sentence where it mentions that cacosmia is worse.  Which it is, but ... oh well.

So, what the hell is parosmia, anyway?  If you've spent any time reading perfume blogs over the last few years, you may be familiar with the term "anosmia" which, medically speaking, is a total loss of the sense of smell.  If you're anosmic, you can't smell anything at all.  Not burning, not coffee, not your baby's head, your lover's feet, nothing.  At all.  

However, parosmia is where you can smell "something" (anything), but the signals from your olfactory nerve get scrambled by the area in your brain that deals with scents, and the brain no longer recognises what you're smelling as a result.  This can lead to olfactory "illusions" such as food tasting and smelling putrid, or rotten, or of sewage. In particular, people have problems with coffee, chocolate, and cigarette smoke.  I also have problems with nuts, bacon, potatoes, marmite, wine, chicken. Several other things, I can't remember right now, also.

In general (and in brief), every single thing I eat, drink or smell tastes or smells slightly bad, but when I encounter any of the above, it can be instantly nauseating.  It's exhausting.  Nothing tastes or smells like itself, and I never know when I'm going to encounter something that makes me feel ill.  I'm constantly hyper-aware, and boy, there's only so much of that a body can take, to be honest.

Ostensibly - according to my ENT surgeon - my parosmia should be taken as a positive sign, in that it could mean that my olfactory nerve is regenerating, and as time goes by it'll get better and better. But, as it was caused by nerve damage (I had a cold back in May, and haven't smelled anything "good" since) recovery will be ... unpredictable.

Well, this wasn't the blog post I settled down to write a couple of hours ago, but I'll figure out where this thing is going as it goes along, I guess.  Hopefully it'll be useful to other sufferers out there, one day, but in the meantime, as with my parosmia, it is what it is.


  1. Gosh, that sounds awful- I hope it resolves itself soon. How horrible and exhausting.
    My husband has very little sense of smell, (except on a plane, strangely, when he goes crazy because everything suddenly tastes so good to him) and that is hard, but at least things don't smell awful to him.


    Behind The Beauty Hype

  2. Thanks for starting this blog and sharing your experience. We're all organic and there are all different possibilities how our parts-- organs, nerves, brains, work with each other to receive and translate to cope with the messages from our surroundings. I've followed your other blog on and off and am lead here out of curiosity. This is a precious blog that you're starting. I hope you get better and stay strong as it's not a pleasant journey. All the best to you!

  3. I have had the exact same experience as you describe here, though the worst offenders are different for me. I initially did some googling to learn about it, to find very few people talking about it. There are medical studies, of course, but those aren't exactly reassuring, and they are written about us, not by us. This has negatively affected one of the few daily joys you get in life, along with changes in so many other areas, but it seems like most regard it as a minor annoyance. It is comforting to read about others struggling with the same problems that I am. Thank you for writing this.

  4. Wow! Thanks so much for posting! I've suffered from this for about two and a half months now and there is so little out there in the way of information. It was encouraging to find someone else with such similar symptoms and triggers. It is really depressing and people don't understand why you could cry over it every single day. I'm finding that an over-the-counter nasal corticosteroid spray helps lessen the intensity. Clearly not a fix as only time will heal, but it does help. Thank you for sharing your experiences!