Tuesday, 25 November 2014

What is Parosmia?

So, I'm a couple of posts into the blog, and I realise that I haven't said what parosmia actually is.  Silly me. Here's the lowdown on a couple of olfactory conditions, and my experience of them. Incidentally, conditions affecting the olfactory nerve are generally grouped together under the term Dysosmia.  Therefore dysosmias include (but are not limited to) the following:

Anosmia: This is a complete inability to smell, and is probably the best-known (and certainly the best-researched) form of dysosmia. Causes can include head injuries, viruses including colds and flu, and chronic sinus disease, but a great many cases of anosmia are idiopathic, having no discernible cause whatsoever.  In the early stages, anosmia can often be mistaken for a taste disorder as the first symptom that a lot of people really notice is their food not being as flavourful as usual.  However, true taste disorders are rare, and I'll deal with this in another post. 

Perfume people often claim to be "anosmic" to one ingredient or another (usually musks for some reason), as a way of saying "I can't smell this particular ingredient", but this isn't actually a form of anosmia in the technical sense.  Before "The Honk", I was "anosmic" to a couple of ingredients, notably hedione, but as hedione doesn't actually smell of much in itself, being used to give a feeling of "light" or "airiness" to fragrances, it wasn't really that big a deal.

Fine Print: Please note - a great many cases of anosmia are congenital, meaning someone has never had a sense of smell develop at all. However, for the general purposes of this blog I'll be referring to acquired anosmia, unless specifically noted in the text. 

Hyposmia: If you're not totally anosmic then you are hyposmic.  Anosmia is the total lack of smell capability, whereas hyposmia is a greatly reduced sense of smell. If you think of smell capability as a volume control, then "normal" would be ten, and  anything below that ten would be hyposmia.  I'm currently around a three or a four. I can only smell through one nostril, and it remains to be seen whether I'll ever smell again through the other.  I may get to five, one day, and if I'm really lucky, I might even hit the dizzy heights of a seven or an eight, but it looks unlikely from here, right now. 

I was totally anosmic for several months earlier this year, and my sense of smell started to return after three months or so, which was thrilling - I could smell A*Men from across a room (not such a difficult feat, admittedly), and MrLippie was back to smelling like a giant Twix again, which is always fun - but ironically, that was when the real problems started. Read on ...

Phantosmia: Essentially, smelling things that don't exist. Nasal hallucinations, if you will.  I've spoken to a few people about this, but the main smell that people report are burning smells.  Lots of people report the smell of diesel, cigarettes and petrol.  Sometimes these smells can be so strong that the eyes and throats of sufferers will burn, as if the smell really exists. But it doesn't. 

In my case I could smell burning meat.  Specifically, that red-laquered, shiny char sui pork that you often see hanging in the windows of Chinese restaurants.  The burning-sweet stench - as if someone had taken a blow torch to a pork belly or two - would appear at random intervals with no warning whatsoever, and linger for hours.  And hours.  And days.  Nothing would make it shift, not even applying neat essential oils to both the inside and the outside of my nostrils.  I was quite lucky, this stage only lasted a couple of weeks, but it was pretty annoying whilst it was around.  But this brings me round to why the blog is here:

Parosmia: a distorted sense of smell.  Essentially: I smell funny. What might smell like a rose to you, or a violet, or a good cabernet will smell like sewage or rancid onions or metallic vanilla to me. According to my Ear, Nose and Throat surgeon ("ENT"), this is a sign that the olfactory nerve that was killed off after my cold earlier this year is now regenerating, and this is a good thing, therefore. However, my brain now has to "re-learn" how to associate the scent-memory of a stimulus to the stimulus itself, something it currently struggles with, hence the distortions.

What this actually means in practice is that everything I smell smells wrong (and bad).  Everything I eator drink tastes wrong (and bad) and, if you read my "Day in the life ..." post, you'll know that it also means is that some things I smell or eat/drink are so wrong (and bad) that it can make me ill.  I won't lie, and, without wishing to sound like a drama-queen, or like I'm attempting to write misery-porn, it's been hell.  Genuinely.  There's a saying "you don't know what you've got till it's gone", well I'd add to that "you don't know what you've got till it buggers off without warning, then returns three months later turning your life into an smelly nightmare and makes you sick every day" Yeah, yeah, melodrama, I know. Whoops.

Cacosmia: Exactly the same as parosmia only everything tastes and smells like shit. Literally. I had this for a time, it arrived quickly, and didn't last that long overall, but I genuinely thought I'd go insane during that time.  There was a moment or two when I simply didn't know how I'd carry on if life continued like this, but I did get past it, and now here I am boring the pants of everyone who will listen about how I ate a peanut today! Or status updates like: "Crisps, how I defeated my nemesis" on Facebook.  Victories possibly don't come much smaller than this, but I'm celebrating them anyway.  You can always put me on ignore.

Euosmia: More or less exactly the same as parosmia and cacosmia, but the distorted smells are pleasant.  Smells like cakes or flowers, or perfumes for example, but this is vanishingly rare.  I met a lady recently who had episodes of "lovely perfume" phantosmia for minutes at a time, but this is the only example I've come across.

I am not a doctor.  I repeat: I AM NOT A DOCTOR. I used to be a fragrance writer, and have had to put that on hold for the time-being. As such, my medical expertise is limited to knowing one side of a sticking plaster from the other, so please see a doctor, or check Fifth Sense, if you think you've been affected by anything mentioned in the foregoing post.

All of the above has been based on my personal experiences with the dysosmias mentioned, and (some of) the research I've been able to do on them, so far.  There basically isn't very much about parosmia around that I could find, and it frustrates me no end. I'm hoping, as I go on with this blog, to learn a hell of a lot more about the conditions I've suffered, and hopefully this will become a resource for other people who suffer too.  I recently had a rather "heated" exchange with a French perfumer about some of the myths surrounding anosmia, and I'll address some of those in a future post too. 

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