Topical entries on anosmia, smell training and more

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January 08, 2019

Little Shop of Parosmia Horrors

by Chris Kelly, founder, AbScent (with homage to Roz Chast)

I am a passionate advocate for those who have smell dysfunction. I lost my sense of smell in 2012, and since then have been exploring this topic and putting together a smell training protocol, to help others like myself understand a technique first described in the literature in 2009 by Professor Thomas Hummel and colleagues at the University of Dresden. I now run a Facebook group devoted to all matters relating to smell training with over 900 members, and my website, has served over 26,000 unique visitors from all over the world.

In my role as moderator of the “Smell Training” Facebook group, I have seen many discussions about parosmia. Parosmia is defined by Wikipedia as “an olfactory dysfunction that is characterised by the inability of the brain to properly identify an odor's ‘natural’ smell”. This condition, so often part of the experience of post-viral and head injury patients, can be debilitating, capricious, puzzling, and downright sick-making. While many practitioners are aware that smell loss can be accompanied by what is usually referred to as “smell distortions”, from where I sit, I have observed a number of experience clusters, and this has raised questions for me.

While many of us report the same sorts of experience—coffee being a notable example of a smell experience that is not only greatly distorted but revolting—there are other foods where parosmics seem to divide. My question is: why should this be? What are the attributes of odours that are extremely obnoxious—chemical or otherwise—that makes them so unpalatable? Why are other smells less so? What does it mean if one group finds a food palatable, but in another group, this creates an aversion?

I’ll be speaking at the FlavourTalk Amsterdam 2019 conference to share my experience in speaking with so many patients about their experience of parosmia. And in the coming year, I will be launching an international initiative called the Sense of Smell Project with Thomas Hummel of the University of Dresden and Bob Pellegrino of the University of Tennessee. We will be digging deeper into the nature of parosmia, as well as many other topics relevant to the experience of those with smell loss.

For more information about FlavourTalk 2019 click here