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Smelling, or not smelling the roses

Until I heard part of an interview last week, I had given no thought to the everyday delights that come wafting into my nose. The person being interviewed had lost her sense of smell for some time and had written a book on the subject. In making a dash from home to the hardware store in my car, I caught only a small segment of the fascinating interview and didn't get the lady's name or the name of her book. But I did catch some of the sense of physical and emotional impact resulting from the loss of the ability to smell. I was inspired to start working on a save-your-smell invention I'll tell you about shortly.

Lose your smell and you have lost one of the great, but seldom acknowledged, pleasures of living. Imagine life without the smell of roses, popcorn, frying onions, burgers on the grill, sauerkraut, roast beef (with roast veggies, potatoes and gravy), brewing coffee, fresh apple pie, the food stands at the county fair, pine trees, fresh cut hay, fresh air, perfume, campfires, burning leaves, and the grand combination, Thanksgiving Dinner.

When you smell the roses, that great fragrance comes from tiny odor particles too small to be seen by the human eye or even by microscope. Millions of them are floating around just waiting to enter your nose to create that sweet, unique smell-of-a-rose sensation. If you're fortunate, your nose can smell anywhere between 4,000 and 10,000 aromas.

But all are not so fortunate. Some have smell disorders, serious and not so serious. Hyposmia is the reduced ability to detect odors and anosmia is the total inability to smell anything at all. These problems can be caused by infections, injuries, polyps in the nasal cavities, hormonal disturbances, dental problems, exposure to certain chemicals or medications or simply the gradual loss of smell with advancing age. The disorder can often be diagnosed by scratching tiny beads on a page. The beads are filled with specific odors and the person being tested must identify the odors. After all, our sense of smell is closely connected to our memory. Proof? The kid who delighted his mom when he smelled something very distinct and told her, "that smells like a long time ago."

Not only is smell closely connected with our memories, it is even closer to our taste. Smell not only comes through the nose but through the channel between our mouth and nose so that when we chew food, aromas are released that go by the inside route to our smell receptors. Without that connection, some familiar flavors like chocolate and oranges would be hard to distinguish. Some people who think they've lost their sense of taste have actually lost their sense of smell instead.

In addition to the obvious loss of pleasure resulting from smell deprivation, there can be more serious consequences. For one, the problem can screw up your eating habits. Some folks eat too little and lose weight while others eat too much and gain weight. Some use more and more salt in an attempt to improve taste, which can lead to or aggravate high blood pressure. Many times the condition and its connection with taste leads to depression -- and why wouldn't it? The woman interviewed told of a smell-loss victim who prepared this "wonderful" meal for her friends. All could smell and taste a serious problem except the cook. Everybody was polite and nobody said anything. When the hostess later found out the meal had been a disaster, she became so depressed she never cooked again.

Even scarier, we rely on smell to warn us of danger. The sense of smell can be our first warning of the smoke from a fire, dangerous gas fumes, a natural gas leak or spoiled, rotten food.

If we have vision problems we can get glasses. If we have hearing problems, hearing aids are available. But with the loss of smell, there is nothing at this time to help remedy the loss. Something needs to be invented to prevent the health problems, the depression and the dangers posed by the handicap. I have been inspired to try to fill this gap with a new invention. That's why, in my laboratory, I have these devices -- they don't work yet -- that are shaped like half-length cigarette filters. One will be stuffed up each nostril where nobody can see them -- hidden better than the very best hearing aids. These devices, when properly activated and working, will provide relief for the hard-of-smelling. I can't predict when the breakthrough will come, so watch this space and watch for the name of my product -- NOSTRABULOUS.