Q. Your recent discussion about changes in taste and smell struck home with me. For about a month now, my husband says, he has been smelling a strange odor.
At first, he thought it was his clothes or something in the immediate vicinity.
But I don't smell anything unusual, and we now realize it must be something wrong with his sense of smell.
He hasn't had a head injury, viral infection or any of the other problems you said could alter one's sense of smell. My husband is basically healthy and never goes to the doctor.
Is there anything I can do about this?
A. Yes, take him to a doctor. Distortions in the sense of smell could point to something serious.
Several things could be causing your husband's problem. He might smell strange odors following damage to the nerves of smell after a bad viral infection or head injury, which you say he hasn't had.
But this sort of problem could also be caused by a small brain tumor putting pressure on the smell center in the brain.
Some people with migraine headaches will smell strange odors just before an attack, much like the distortions in vision that can signal an impending headache. And a few people who have epilepsy will have alterations in smell as part of a seizure.
In the elderly, smelling unusual odors occasionally occurs with a severe depression. A normal sense of smell returns after the depression lifts.
So, although there are some relatively benign causes of your husband's problem, there are also some serious ones. His doctor may want to refer your husband to a neurologist for a complete evaluation, which may include a CT scan of the brain.
Jay Siwek, a family physician from Georgetown University, practices at the Fort Lincoln Family Medicine Center and Providence Hospital in Northeast Washington. Consultation is a health education column and is not a substitute for medical advice from your physician.
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