Thursday, November 08, 2007
What the nose doesn't know
Imagine not being able to smell a rose or the pungent aroma of a cup of coffee? As we age, our ability to smell diminishes. In some cases, as much as 60 percent as we reach our so-called golden years. Our smell peaks in our late 20s or early 30s, and gradually declines after that.
Some people are more vulnerable to infections or viruses that cause them to lose their sense of smell altogether. The condition is called anosmia. The viruses seem to attack the nerve cells, which are located in the upper part of the nasal cavity, causing the loss of smell.
What's it like to lose your sense of smell completely? Try this: Take three jellybeans, with strong flavors such as licorice, banana, and coffee. Put them all in a baggie, close your eyes and pick one. Then hold your nose tightly and place the jellybean in your mouth. You can tell it's sweet, but I bet you can't figure out the flavor. Now let go of your nose and smell the aroma? See? If you can't smell, you can't enjoy the pleasure of food.
It's not just food. Think of what it would be like if you couldn't smell smoke or natural gas -- it could be dangerous.
Women usually develop anosmia in their 40s or 50s after suffering from a serious sinus infection, usually brought on by a common cold. Although some men contract it, middle-age women are more susceptible, because, doctors think, their immune systems are more fragile as they go through menopause.
Physicians say the condition can be treated with medication, but the medicine does have side effects. Many people take vitamins loaded with antioxidants to regain their smell, but it takes time and in most cases the smell never comes back 100 percent.
So when you smell cauliflower cooking on the stove this Thanksgiving, don't think, "Ewwwww"; appreciate the fact you can smell it at all.
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