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My Sense of Smell Is Broken

I smell weird. Ly. I smell weirdly.

I need to correct that immediately, because I just know some wag is going to post "I knew that already. ;-)" on my Facebook page.

What I mean is that my sense of smell is malfunctioning or hyper-functioning. It isn't working the way it should. It's been happening for the last few years. I don't know if something is wrong with my schnoz, or if it's something else entirely. More on that in a minute.

I don't have a great sense of smell to begin with. I don't detect faint, subtle odors, whispers of a scent on the wind. My wife, on the other hand, has such a sensitive sense of smell, whenever one of our kids farts in the car, she knows who did it without asking.

And because smell is linked to taste, my poor smell affects my ability to taste, which means I seek out spicier, more flavorful foods so I can taste them more fully. I'm not a serial salter, but I do prefer spicier foods to the Midwestern staples, like baked potatoes, boiled chicken, or tofu.

Which makes this new problem a bit of a puzzler.

I can detect sour smells, when no one else can. If something smells like mildew on a shower curtain, or a shirt that didn't make it out of the washer right away, I'm the only one who smells it.

This has even caused a couple arguments with my wife, especially the first time I told her the jeans hanging in our closet smelled.

"I think your jeans smell a little funny," I said last summer.

"Funny how?"

"Like they were stuck in the washing machine a day too long."

She gave them a big sniff. "No, they smell fine."

"I'm telling you, they smell."

"No, they don't!"

"Then what am I smelling?!"

"I don't know, but it's sure as hell not my pants!"

I noticed the sour smell a few days later at a local McDonalds' drink station. "Do you smell that?" I whispered to my wife.

"I don't smell anything."

"It's like it wasn't thoroughly cleaned out, or they missed something somewhere. It's a sour smell, like your jeans smelled."

She put her face close to mine and hissed, "My pants. Do not. Smell!"

"Fine, then I must have a tumor, because everywhere I go, I smell sour things, but no one else seems to!"

By no one, I mean my kids and those few friends who don't seem to think I'm weird when I ask "does this smell funny?"

Er. Weirder. My friends already think I'm weird, but they're not familiar with most of my quirks and foibles. Like grabbing my collar and asking one of my kids, "does this smell funny?"

It's happening even now. Every summer for the past three years, I have smelled phantom odors. This morning, I wore a freshly laundered t-shirt that I was sure reeked of that sour smell, but everyone in my family assured me that it smelled completely clean and fresh.

Either that, or they're all lying to me.

What's worse was finding an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer that said people's sense of smell and taste start to fail and change as they get older. I sat there, reading the article, inhaling that smell with every breath.

According to the article, our ability to smell peaks at age 40, and goes downhill from there.

Richard Doty, director of the University of Pennsylvania's Smell and Taste Center (Official Motto: "Is it. . . is it chicken?"), said that men tend to suffer more smell loss than women, smokers more than nonsmokers. But there wasn't anything in the article about phantom sour smells, or hypersensitivity to certain odors.

I did a quick search for "phantom smell" on the Internet, and learned that rather than suffering an age-related smell loss, I may instead have diabetes, cirrhosis of the liver, a possible psychiatric disorder, and am going through menopause.

Never, ever try to diagnose yourself on the Internet with only one symptom.

Most likely, it could be something called "phatosmia," which is a smell disorder that does not have an underlying cause, like a brain tumor or menopause.

I'm kind of leaning toward this last one, because it's common, because my affliction is seasonal, and best of all, it's not something I could die from.

Ultimately, I don't think this is something to worry about. It's happened every summer for the last few years, and I haven't died, my liver is fine, and I sit in front of a fan to reduce my hot flashes. Which means it's all in my head, or my nose is more sensitive than I previously thought.

Not as sensitive as my wife is about her jeans though.



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