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Archive for the ‘sense of smell’ Category

rydal mount

My lawn had grown overlong since the last mow, virtue of a week of rain and heat. It felt soft and springy underfoot, and the grass released its scent as I walked, a delicious scent that mingled with that of haymaking coming from the meadows beyond the fence. It was an overcast evening, warm, with pale white clouds rising into an oppressive background of blue-grey. I sensed the approach of a thundery rain. They say you can smell the rain, or if not the rain exactly then something of the atmosphere that precedes it. And yes, that evening I fancied I could smell the approach of rain. All of this intermingled was the scent of a rural late summer evening, rich in memory, releasing images of childhood, faces and events from a past I had forgotten, long locked in the treasure chest of experience.

The remarkable thing me in all of this was that I could smell anything at all. To lose ones sense of smell for so long as I had, and have it return as strong and keen as it sometimes is now is more than a joy. It is an intimate and profoundly meaningful re-connection with the deeper world, a connection many normal scented people take for granted. Indeed I’ve seen them pull a face, overwhelmed by scents of the wrong sort. But to the recovering anosmic, even the rancid odour of organic decay is a sensual experience of incalculable value, if not exactly to be enjoyed, then at least, like all scent, appreciated for the enhanced degree of self awareness its grants for, as any anosmic will tell you, to be without scent is to be not fully in the world at all.

I can’t remember how long I was without a sense of smell – decades probably. It faded gradually, for no known reason, and doctors could not help me. My road to recovery then was one of personal experiment, and the search for useful information in a sea of online nonsense, and hear-say, and old-wives-tales. But had I cleaved solely to accepted medical opinion I might have subjected myself to painful and invasive surgery only to find, as many had before me, that it did not work. I might also have subjected myself to a life on steroids. I persevered with the medically accepted route for two years with intermittent and at best only temporary respite, before giving up on it. Instead I followed a tentative lead to a harmless common food supplement called Lipoid Acid. Six months later my sense of smell was returning. Getting on for two years now, and its sharpness can at times astonish me.

But Dr Google is for sure an unreliable healer. He will tell you what you want to hear. Is my condition incurable? Yes/no, he says, depending on what you want to believe. Will this or that cure it? Yes/ no, he says, again depending on what you want to believe. Life threatening? Ditto.

There is no substitute then for a circumspect approach, one that values only the evidence of a verifiable efficacy. But here we find the skepticism of science overwhelmingly biased against the hope of myth, and old-wifery, dismissing it in its entirety as nonsense when actually there may be useful snippets to be gleaned. As a rule we must be suspicious of anything that costs us money, avoid also the inane chatter of vexatious forums and other online support groupery. Instead seek the accounts of those who have done things, who have tried this or that, and written about it in detail, and aren’t trying to sell you a cure. I found my own crock of gold in the writings at No Smell No Taste, judged it to be a reliable source and followed my nose (pun intended).

So it was partly from the sea of online myth the stories of Lipoic Acid arose. It was also a degree of faith and determination that guided their application, and eventually saw me through to a re-connection with a sensual experience I had not dared hope I’d ever know again.

The varieties of fragrance of women at a wedding is astonishing, as I had reason to notice last weekend. There are so many commercial perfumes, and I had forgotten how unique they are, and how they play upon the senses, how they tickle the emotions – some of them darkly erotic, some playfully sharp, dancing light upon the night air like the faery folk, and all obliterated now and then by the heavy sweetness of a cigarette, an unwholesome troll of a scent that can have me compressing my lungs in defence at twenty paces. Yet, but a few years ago, I would not have smelled a cigarette even had I been holding it myself.

The realisation doctors do not know everything is a salutary lesson, and something of a shock to the layman. Certainly they know much more about a thing than you or I, but to own a condition like Anosmia is an education in itself and qualifies you by default for intelligent study and comment. And it is through study we might understand it, and by understanding come either to terms with its incurability, or aid our own recovery.

With anosmia, a complicating factor is no one knows how the sense of smell works, how it takes the airborne molecules of the scented thing and reads them in a way the mind can interpret a signature of the scent of that thing. We can guess it’s something to do with the mucous membrane and the way the sensory nerves lie within it. We can look suspiciously at invasive polyps – cut them out if they are sufficient in number to actually block the nose. But I still have polyps, yet also a keen sense of smell, so polyps, although much maligned and blamed, and to be honest a flipping nuisance, I conclude, are not the cause of anosmia.

My own feeling is that inflammation of the mucous membrane is the cause, that polyps are a symptom of this as much as anosmia, that in swelling of the membrane the nerves within it are stretched and lose their ability to do whatever it is they do. Reduce the inflammation and the nerves recover their mysterious function, and the sense of smell returns.

The scent of a cupboard when you open it, the scent of shoe polish, the musky sweetness of WD40, the sharp repellent tang of petroleum, and metal polish. And in the garden, a rose, or lavender, or rosemary, the interior of an old shed containing a mad cornucopia of scented stuff. The scent of a car under a hot sun. The scent of a handful of copper coins. A newspaper. A chip shop.

All these things are to be marvelled at adding incalculable layers of meaning to the world that is also seen and felt and heard, and without which the world is not complete.

[PS the garden featured in the photo isn’t mine, but once belonged to William Wordsworth]

 

 

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girl smelling flowers 2Can Alpha Lipoic Acid help restore your sense of smell?

Anosmia. No sense of smell. Mine used to be normal, though seasonally attenuated by an allergy to pollen. I seem to have been without it forever now, though I suppose it must simply have grown more intermittent over the years until I realised I couldn’t remember what anything smelled like any more.

Doctors? Well, yes, you should always go see the doctor, see what pills he can prescribe for you, but my own doctor isn’t the most hopeful nor encouraging of healers – his most endearing mannerism is his slightly leaden patience, his least endearing a sorry shrug of the shoulders and the phrase: “There is nothing we can do.” Over the years he has conditioned me into believing the same of all ailments, that the best I can hope for is that the body will heal itself in those cases where it can, and that we have to simply adjust to living with those cases where it can’t.

The surgeons at the ENT department were a little more hopeful, offering me a handful of steroids and saying that if they didn’t work they could remove the nasal polyps their cameras had also revealed. (Polyps are harmless little outgrowths from the mucus membrane). The steroids worked, restoring a supernormal sense of smell in a matter of days, but this only lasted a few months, then it was back to anosmia as usual. As for the surgery, I know people who’ve had their polyps removed. They say it hurts, you’re on sickpay while it heals, it doesn’t work, and the polyps grow back in a few years anyway. The ENT surgeons gave the same pessimistic prognosis, so it didn’t take me long to decide on that one. If your polyps are so big you can’t breathe through your nose, then it’s worth doing, but otherwise,… probably not.

I think nasal polyps are a red herring anyway. True they often accompany anosmia, and are sometimes cited by medical professionals as being the cause of it, but I think they’re more likely a symptom. I still have polyps, but my sense of smell can be restored by steroids, which work by reducing inflammation. Ergo, I believe the cause of anosmia is inflammation, probably of the mucous membrane, which also contains the nerves that help us smell. Perhaps as the membrane swells, it stretches the nerves or even damages them, I don’t know, I’m speculating now. That would be my avenue of research if I were a medical man, but I’m not. I just want my sense of smell back.

Of course, you can’t live on steroids. Taken in the longer term they’re nasty things. Indeed I’m of the view it’s a bad idea to be on any kind of pharmaceutical for life, unless you’d be dead without it. What you need is something more natural and for which there are no known side effects, that the aim should be to kickstart the body’s own healing mechanism, not to find a permanent crutch for its apparent failings.

Fortunately, there are no end of “natural” methods for curing anosmia. Unfortunately I must have tried all of them, but to no avail. Then, about six months ago I came upon information about Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA), a common, inexpensive food supplement that’s used as a natural anti-inflammatory. Medical reports, whilst not conclusive, were encouraging, that boosting your intake of ALA could help in recovering the sense of smell.

I’ve been taking it now, as the title of this piece suggests, for 200 days, and have experienced some welcome improvement. I can no longer say I have no sense of smell whatsoever. It’s intermittent, present for some parts of the day absent for the rest. I’ll go for a few weeks without anything, and then a few weeks intermittently smelling things again. The improvement is small, halting, tentative, but seems to be gathering strength. As of now, even at it’s best, I have to say the sense is still severely impaired, responsive only to the strongest of odours, also curiously selective. By contrast Steroids will reveal to me the richly varied texture of background odours as I move from place to place. Such things are still beyond my grasp, but there is movement in the right direction. I’m taking nothing else, so it has to be the Alpha Lipoic Acid.

Results were not immediate. I began taking it at the start of 2015, and noticed no improvement for the first 100 days. Then I began to get my first inklings.

The medical studies involved a dose of 600 mg per day. The recommended daily maximum (as a food supplement) is 200mg. I didn’t want to exceed the recommended dose that much, so compromised on 400 mg. (200 in the morning, 200 in the evening). I take it in capsule form, with food. If you take it on an empty stomach it’ll give you indigestion.

So anyway, yes, it’s taken a long time, and even after 200 days it’s still mostly a blank with just the occasional heady rush of scent, but welcome all the same. I’ll report back in another 100 days, and let you know if there’s been any further improvement.

One other thing I should mention here, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere in this blog, is the effect of alcohol. This may not effect everyone, but in my case at least, drinking it will set back recovery by days or even weeks. I can get away with it provided I don’t exceed the medically approved limit of 1 unit ABV per hour, and a maximum of 4 units per day. Any more than that and the body struggles to metabolise it. I can only speculate it’s causing an inflammation of the mucous membrane. If you’re struggling with anosmia then, it’s worth going tee total for a couple of months to see what happens. It’s not easy I know- most of us who like a drink are more hooked on alcohol than we suspect – that is until we try quitting, and then we realise it only too well. I’m down to a bottle of wine a week now – but not all at the same time.

The only other thing I found that helped with Anosmia was acupuncture. It took about 5 sessions but my sense came back quite strongly – again acupuncture is an effective anti-inflammatory. In my case it didn’t last very long though, but I was also drinking more than the medically approved guidelines at the time. I hadn’t made the link back then, but I’ve no doubts about it now.

If I was starting out again, looking for a cure, I’d say, for the quick hit, quit drinking and get some acupuncture. You should see positive results after five to ten sessions. Any more than that and it isn’t going to work. But start drinking again, and you’ll lose the benefits. For the longer road, quit drinking and start taking Alpha Lipoic Acid. You should see the first (modest) results within three to six months, but keep drinking – even modestly – and the results will be choppy to non existent.

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shadowmanOn the last Friday of February in 2014, I drove in the early morning sunshine to Glasson Marina. It’s an interesting place and a very beautiful part of the Lancashire coastline. I wrote about that day here. Today was the last Friday of February 2015, and I went again. I don’t know why exactly, other than the urge to get out, to feel the wind on my face and the soft earth under my feet, and I couldn’t think of anywhere else – and I remembered that walk so well. I had time owed me, just like last year; the forecast was fair, just like last year, and the snowdrops and the daffodils were starting to push through, just like last year. In the absence of any other motivation, I think we are easily suggestible creatures.

Last year, I shared the carpark with a middle aged guy in an old ragtop. Today I was the middle aged guy in the old ragtop – not a classic MGB like his, but a near classic MX5. Maybe he was the inspiration for my later impulse to buy the car – I don’t know. I recall he also wore an Irvin flying jacket, like a Spitfire Pilot. I thought that was a bit over the top, unless the heaters on those MG’s are rubbish. The Mazda has a heater like a small furnace, so you can easily drive with the top down in mid-winter – not that I tried because it was about 5 degrees. My ragtop is showing signs of wear and the colder it is, the more brittle, so the top stays up until the temperature nudges above 15 degrees.

mazzy at glasson

She made the run easily, some thirty miles of motorway and narrow lane. It’s strange how when I first got her she felt like such a hard ride. Now any other ride feels too soft, and even if I’ve driven her a hundred miles, the first thing I want to do, still, is drive her some more.

But I was here to walk, not just to drive, and I followed much the same route as last year, about six and a half miles of salt marsh and coastal footway. Walking alone, and the conditions being so remarkably similar, both walks – this years and last – blurred into one avant guard production, and I had the impression of a replay layered over the real thing and my self not being able to tell the difference, if the thoughts I’d thought last year were the same as now, or was I walking last year, possessed of memories I did not have at the time, of the year still to come? And what if I come again, next year? So little had changed. I even encountered the same farm tractor spraying slurry in the same meadow, the same ruined tractor abandoned in the same ditch. Was I looping endlessly in time?

There were murmurations of dunlin out over the marsh, like last time, an eerie chorus of peewits calling for curtains on the winter in the meadows behind the long bank at Cockerham, like last time. My eyes scanned the same scenes, the same wayside curiosities, the odd blocks of stone, the tumbled farm buildings. Something must have been different!

All right, this time I called in the parish church, beautiful with the morning sunlight bursting cleanly through the stained glass. There, I bought another novel for my collection from the secondhand stalls at the back. It cost 50p and was serendipitoiusly titled “starting over”. There was such an overwhelming choice of titles in the church I guess reading is pretty big on the pastimes list for Glasson Parishioners. I read the opening paragraph and was hooked at once, carried the book in my pocket for six miles, determined to bin the ones I’m labouring through at the moment. No sense wasting one’s life on things that don’t connect. We must hold to the ones who love us, and let go the one’s who don’t, just as we cannot hold on to what we are not meant to keep, and cannot lose what is meant for us, even if we throw it away.

old trawler glasson basin

There was the same boat sunk in the dock, but different faces in the Lantern Oer Lune cafe. No all day breakfast this time either, but a more demure omelette with a side salad, even though I’d asked for chips. Still, I enjoyed it, and I’m not one to make a fuss. My sense of smell had even put in an unexpected return – not so much that I could smell anything, but that I could at least taste my lunch, and that coffee tasted very nice indeed after two hours of a stiff salted wind coming off the bay.

I drove home a different way to last year, picking up the A6 at Garstang, but not before crossing over the canal and having a flashback to 1972 or thereabouts, and a fishing trip with a friend and his father. How I hated fishing, but pretended I did not because it’s good to have friends. He was to die on a race-track, ten years later. He would have loved the MX5. I felt guilty I had not thought of him in a while. He was engaged to be married, and I wonder what kind of life he would have made for himself – if we’d still be friends or if by now we would have drifted apart as so many friends do.

I looked for us down on the canal bank, fishing. But we weren’t there. It must have been another day, another season.

Fancy a run to Glasson? Hop in.

 

 

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girl smelling flowers 2I’m either heading for a breakdown or I’ve tapped a richer vein of words than usual, so much so I’ve decided to split the blog and spare my followers a too regular dose of the Rivendale Review, which could easily be several times a day at the moment and, I imagine, annoying. To this end I’ve begun another blog called Scent and Scentability, where the aim is to focus on, well, scent and the sense of it, or rather the lack of it in my case.

It’s of interest to me, not only because I suffer from anosmia and am keen to explore therapies for curing it, but also because I believe scent to be one of the most emotive of the senses, and vital in maintaining our awareness of the world about us, both physically and emotionally – also of course as an associative trigger and recorder of memory.

The spur in all of this is I’ve recently begun a fresh short course of steroid medication which ought to get me back to smelling things again pretty soon, so I wanted to record that experience, which, having been through it before, I know is wholly positive. The trick though is to maintain the sense of smell once the steroids are finished, which isn’t so certain a thing. Indeed, there will probably be a decline, which I must be prepared for, but I wanted to record that part of the journey as well – and that’s why I’ve subtitled the blog: journeys into and out of anosmia.

One cannot live a life on steroids, which is a pity because they give you one hell of a lift, and may be the reason behind my almost manic creative spurt these past days! This time last week I was feeling pretty late-autumn morose, no energy, lethargic, and wanting to hibernate until spring. Now I’m up for anything. Maybe I was just born a little low on corticosteroid, because this feels more like the real me, even though I know it isn’t.

I do have high hopes for some newly discovered alternative therapies, so it’s by no means inevitable I shall be hitting the buffers of total anosmia again, and risking burning the candle at both ends on yet another dose of steroids. Alternative therapies are legion and I’ve been through most of them, and all to no avail, but it’s always better to be interested in something, than interested in nothing.

The early days of Scent and Scentability has also shown me how far the Rivendale Review has come since I began it in 2008. We shouldn’t get too hung up on the stats, but RR is up to 90,000 hits now, about 3000 a month and rising – still a fairly quiet backwater, but it keeps me busy and stimulated with all your comments and feedback, which I very much appreciate.

Scent and Scentability went up at the weekend, and has recorded 5 hit. Suffice it to say it takes a while for blogs to gain proper traction and find genuine, interested readers, but I consider this a good start and I’m looking forward to the journey.

The Rivendale Review will of course continue unabated, featuring the same eclectic content.

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