Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Can You Smell That?

Did you know that smells provide your strongest sense of memory? A quick whiff of sunscreen make take you to childhood beach memories, hairspray back to high school, freshly baked cookies back home or perhaps a certain cologne to a special person. Yesterday, I had the pleasure of smelling "fall" as I hiked through a beautiful aspen grove, the path covered in what my daughter calls the "crunchy golden blanket" of leaves. Too bad we can't bottle up that marvelous smell of nature!

Smell might be the sense we think about the least- until there is a problem with it. Without smell, taste is muted, leading to either decreased appetite or overeating (or over-spicing!) as we try to find something to satisfy a craving. If you wonder about your sense of smell, see if you can distinguish some common smells such as cinnamon, peanut butter, vanilla, coffee or lemon.

What causes your sense of smell to decrease or disappear? Some people are simply born without a sense of smell. Most commonly, however, we see transient lack of smell (the medical term is anosmia) from nasal congestion due to colds or allergies. Smoking, of course, not only destroys taste buds, but also decreases the ability to smell. Overuse of nonprescription nasal sprays such as Afrin is another common cause. Less common are medical disorders such as zinc deficiency and hypothyroidism, and rarely loss of smell can be a sign of diseases in the frontal lobe of the brain such as tumors or dementia.

BOTTOM LINE: If you notice you can no longer distinguish smells very well (and have no obvious cause such as a cold, chronic allergies or smoking habit), it's time to head to your doctor for a check up!

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