What Is That Nasty Smell?
Phantom odors – smells that have no physical source – appear to affect one in 15 Americans over the age of 40, often ruining their appetite and sometimes making them rate the quality of their lives as miserable. The smells themselves are usually unpleasant ones, such as garbage or spoiled food. New research on the prevalence of this problem found that women are twice as likely to be affected as men and that the phenomenon usually occurs between the ages of 40 and 60. Investigators from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) gathered information from 7,417 people over 40 to get a handle on phantom odors. They report that this condition can have a significant impact on appetite and food preferences to the extent that affected people may be so turned off by the unpleasant smells that they’re not able to maintain a healthy weight. It also can be dangerous, affecting the ability to identify the scent of gas leaks, spoiled food and smoke. The study found that risk factors include head injury, dry mouth, and poor overall health. Low socio-economic status also was identified as a risk, possibly because of more common exposure to environmental pollutants and toxins or due to health problems or medications that may contribute to the disorder. The actual causes aren’t fully understood, and no treatment is available. On the upside, however, the researchers reported that the frequency of smelling phantom odors decreases with age, particularly among women.
Kathleen E. Bainbridge et al, “Factors Associated With Phantom Odor Perception Among US Adults Findings From the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.” JAMA Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, August 16, 2018 DOI: 10.1001/jamaoto.2018.1446
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