Saturday, September 12, 2009

What's That Awful Smell?

What a relief! What I've got is parosmia, not phantosmia.

Say what? Come again? WTF? What craziness is this now?

It all started in mid August when I started smelling something awful in our house. I smelled it mostly on the main floor of the house; the kitchen, the hallway, the stairs leading up to the second level, and the foyer. The smell got worse daily and the fact that I could not track it down nor eliminate it even after laundering the kitchen rug, spritzing the air with Fabreeze mist, and washing all dirty clothes stacked up in the laundry chute was making me crazy. I began to worry as I am wont to do.

No one else was smelling this stench of rotten, old olives that greeted me every time I opened the door to my house, my haven, my palace, my solace. Not good.I was driving my nearest and dearest absolutely nuts with my woeful complaints because he could smell nothing amiss. And Laura, the only other resident in the house was rarely around long enough to question.

I continued to stew and worry. Worry because I knew from my medical school neurology days that one who smells odors that others do not may have a brain tumor or some other undesirable intra-cranial lesion accounting for the mixed up signals greeting the olfactory receptors in the brain. In years past, I was prone to having all the afflictions we studied in medical school; infected heart valves, aneurysms ready to burst, tumors of one type or another. I had them all until we moved on to study the next pathologic lesion. If I thought this tendency to panic had been quelled, I was obviously wrong. The more I smelled the rotten olives in my house and was reminded that "no one else can smell it, Kate", the crazier I felt.

Two weeks into this ordeal, feeling worsening nausea from the fumes, imagining the findings on my MRI of the brain (such drama!), I found myself in Laura's room helping her pack for school. Mind you, I hadn't been in her room in weeks (on purpose); leaving the laundry and daily cleanup to her. Her room smelled of rotten olives. I still couldn't put it all together until I spied a plug-in air freshener underneath her desk. Yanking it out of the wall, I took it apart and took a good, long whiff from the oily reservoir. Bingo. Praise God.

I was ecstatic to solve the mystery......after two weeks of convincing myself that I had phantosmia. Phantosmia is a worrisome symptom; the brain is fabricating smells that really are not there at all (phantom odors) and that's usually because something is not-so-good in the squash. On the other end of the spectrum, parosmia occurs when a legitimate smell is misinterpreted, usually in a negative sense. Glade's lovely Sweet Pea scented room freshener which all in this household thought quite lovely was absolute stench to me.

Turns out parosmia is a fairly common side effect of the medication I started for migraine prevention last month. Thank goodness this is the only thing that has smelled weird so far.


  1. I'd say, stench or no, you have one fine nose! That's really interesting - the phantosmia. I hadn't heard of it before.

  2. So happy to hear you solved this little mystery and that it has such a happy ending! Well told!

  3. I'm sorry for the agonizing two weeks, but this is a funny story and I laughed right along. I, too, have a sensitive nose and smell everything - in the hamper, in the fridge, downstairs, upstairs, and in the parlor, too. Sweet Pea is one of my favorite scents but I will never smell it again without thinking of rotten olives. I hope that medication is working on your migraines.


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