How come I can smell stuff now?
March 28, 2011 2:31 PM   Subscribe

Why has my sense of smell suddenly become amazing? Or, why am I smelling things that have gone away for a day or two after they are gone?

I live in the Central Valley in one of the worst cities for air pollution. I've been here 19 years (I'm 26) and have been lightly to medium congested for the last 15 or so. I can remember one day (glorious day) about a year ago where my sinuses were clear and I felt like I had the full capacity of my breathing apparatus available to me. Other than that I wake up with a clogged throat and typically snorf a loogie several times a day.

In the last several months or so, it seems like my sense of smell, which previously has been pretty anemic (some might say "anosmic") has become very sensitive and/or has begun to retain a memory or sentimentality.

A couple recent examples:

I prepared a synthetic meat dish, some sort of mexican veggie protein crumbles I got from whole foods, and didn't really like the taste, they smelled not bad but unpleasant. However, for the next couple of days, I could not stop smelling that scent, no matter where I was. It would make me sick to my stomach, and have a bad taste in my mouth. Also, it felt like a "flashback" almost. I swear I will go nowhere near those veggie crumble things again because they are EVIL!

Last night I was out and I danced with a girl who was wearing a nice perfume and had lips that tasted like mint. I got some of her perfume smell on my hands and noticed that later after we had parted ways. Same thing with the lip taste/smell. The taste went away after I washed my mouth but the smell remains, just like the perfume smell, even though I've showered and cannot smell it on me if I sniff my hands and arms.

These "flashbacks" last for several days and are both positive and negative, and the examples I provide are not the only occurrences. Is this what it is like when you are not congested all the time? Do normal people have this experience of smelling things long after the source of the smell is gone? Am I somehow trapping scent molecules in my nose and then rebreathing them later? Is there a such thing as a "scent memory" that I am really "flashing back" to?

Some things that have changed recently:
I started running to train for a 1/2 marathon in May. light running so far, about 4-5 miles per run 1 or 2 times per week. (I'm generally a very fit person, 6'0, 155lbs).
I started and stopped smoking e-cigarrettes for about a month or two.
I don't normally smoke at all.

I'm also noticing that I can smell subtle scents in foods, that is, I can make out individual smells instead of just a single overwhelming scent like "Pie", I can smell the clove, the cinnamon, nutmeg, apple, flour and what not. This is a very strange sensation for me - what might be causing this?
posted by farmersckn to Health & Fitness (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It could be related to your exercise regimen. In the past I found that when I did a certain type of breathing exercise (Buteyko) which acts to increase your baseline CO2 content and breath in a more subtle manner (shallow) then my sense of smell quickly amplified. Your training is probably naturally causing you to breath in a similar fashion, less hyperventilation and more relaxed. My guess is that when that happens your sense of smell becomes more sensitive as there is less air being constantly pushed through your airways.
posted by blueyellow at 2:46 PM on March 28, 2011

Change to sense of sense of smell can be a symptom of carbon monoxide poisoning. Do you have a carbon monoxide detector?
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 2:48 PM on March 28, 2011

I'm pregnant and have amplified smell due to hormones - could you have a hormonal issue? You should probably ask your doc.
posted by cestmoi15 at 2:48 PM on March 28, 2011

My sense of smell improves when I am regularly having sex.
posted by lover at 3:36 PM on March 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

The veggie crumbles example makes me think that there were particles of the food stuck in your back teeth, in your tonsil crypts, or in your facial hair. If it happens again, maybe try flossing, poking your tonsils, and shampooing your whiskers?
posted by pseudostrabismus at 4:10 PM on March 28, 2011

I seem to remember something about smell and memory from one of my psych classes ....something about their neural components being very close together in the cortex, and hence thu get paired together a lot. If anyone else can provide a more educated expansion of this it might be an interesting possibility as to what's going on.
posted by whalebreath at 4:27 PM on March 28, 2011

As a man with perfume allergies, I can assure you that some perfumes really do just hang around for day after day after day after wash after wash after wash. Bastard things are just sticky.
posted by flabdablet at 10:52 PM on March 28, 2011

When my hayfever symptoms get really bad (just like now - hello spring!), I have what I like to call "super-sensitive-smelling" symptoms which include being able to smell stuff when it's in a different room, and sometimes I can "evoke" smells from my past if I put my mind to it.

Unfortunately this superpower that I have isn't too pleasant when I come to eat something - I seem able to smell all the individual components of things which is a bit overwhelming. Maybe it's something to do with an overload of the nasal receptors due to overstimulation.

No medical professional I've mentioned it to seemed to think it was a real effect, and that it was all in my mind.
posted by car01 at 6:01 AM on March 29, 2011

Response by poster: @pseudostrabismus: I'm aware of the tonsil crypts and I clean mine every single night before bed. I had tonsil stones a while back on a regular basis before I learned what they are and now I'm almost obsessive about getting those crypts cleaned out. I'll try shampooing the beard, though, it is short but could still be trapping scents.

@lover: Fitting comment for your username :) I had not considered this but the frequency of my sexual activity has increased recently as well. Interesting point, which I will be doing some further research into.

@blueyellow: I'm very interested in this Buteyko. I was actually planning to start taking some Yoga to help with my breathing, hopefully to improve my running performance, but this might put that off for a while. One thing about my breathing I have noticed is that I have stopped holding my breath since about 6 months ago. I posted about it here. Turns out that was stress related, stress went away when my wife left. Funny, that.
posted by farmersckn at 10:02 AM on March 29, 2011

No conclusive answer, but I can vouch for smell memory sometimes persisting as vividly as the real thing, even when the smell itself is definitely absent. When I first worked in an old folks' home as a teenager, the smell was quite overwhelming, and I could "smell" it vividly all the time, even when I wasn't at work. The effect faded after a couple of weeks, as I got more used to it.
posted by penguin pie at 3:37 PM on March 29, 2011

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