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Employees with smell disorders need coffee-free spaces

As more workers are returning to shared offices, at least on a part-time basis, we want employers to understand the impact that the loss of sense and taste can have on the workplace.

We’ve all worked in offices where we smell people heating lunches in the microwave, or strong vats of wafting coffee. For the millions of people with parosmia this is going to be unbearable and nauseating. Hot drinks, hot food, and snacks prepared in a microwave may well smell like rotting meat, urine, or faeces to someone with parosmia. 

This is a distortion of olfactory perception and can be unbearable to the person experiencing it. When foods are hot or heating, the perception of the odour is greater than at room temperature. Thus, tea kitchens and food preparation areas can be great sources of distress for parosmics. For those experiencing smell problems, there can be disastrous repercussions for mental health, happiness, and relationships.

If you have returned or are returning to the workplace, here are some things to consider:

1. Coffee is a trigger for parosmia

Coffee is the most reported problem that parosmics experience, with people smelling coffee as rotten meat, sulphur or faeces. Hot coffee is the worst offender and the smell is worse than the taste. Some people can tolerate a cold brew coffee from the fridge. Perhaps your employer can consider a coffee-free space where you can take your breaks?

2. The smell of heating food can be horrific for someone with parosmia

Nothing could be worse for a parosmic than an environment where people are openly heating food. Whether it is leftovers or ready meals the wafting smells of an office microwave will be horrific for someone with parosmia. People report a generic smell associated with the microwave which often triggers nausea. It is also frequently reported to smell like urine. 

Even something we consider delicious like heating popcorn will have the same awful smell and nausea triggers. If you have parosmia, you should ideally be seated far away from or, if possible, on another floor from food production. Similarly, if it is possible, any microwaves should be put into an enclosed room.  

3. Open dialogue and communication

Ensure your direct line manager and/or HR team understand the seriousness of smell and taste loss. Persisting problems can be associated with Long Covid, or can continue on their own when a person is otherwise completely fit and healthy. 

4. Identifying and supporting jobs that require smell

Many jobs require a specific use of the sense of smell and in these cases you should make your employer aware of any safety issues which might prevent you carrying out specific duties. Jobs that require smell in day-to-day function include: plumber, carer, emergency response, fire service, chefs, food service, wine industry and many others – some of which may not be obvious.

5. Smell training and support

Some people may not have sought help or even recognise / articulate their problems. Nosewell, is an online resource, created with the support from doctors, which can help manage your condition.

Some people’s sense of smell will return on its own, and some people can be helped with smell training. Smell training is proven to improve sense of smell and is clinically developed to exercise the olfactory process. 

September 20, 2021