Event Scents

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Cacosmia — Smelling Horrible Smells that Aren’t There 05/31/2010

The Event Scents new-word-to-be-learned is “Cacosmia”.  Cacosmia comes from the two Greek words kakos (meaning bad or unpleasant) and osme (meaning smell, stink, or odor) and literally translates as “Bad Smell”.  The word Cacosmia is used to describe the olfactory hallucination or illusion of an unpleasant odor, when the unpleasant odor doesn’t exist in reality.  In other words, a person with Cacosmia experiences a horrible or rotten smell when there isn’t one there, and in fact may be substituting the bad smell for a pleasant one that exists.  Some of the worst examples of Cacosmia are the odors of rotting eggs, rotting fish, burning flesh, garlic, garbage and vomit.

Cacosmia is closely associated with, and many times confused with, Cacogeusia, which is the illusion or hallucination of a “Bad Taste”.    Cacosmia is one of many chemosensory disorders and can also be found being described by the term “hallucinated halitosis”.  The opposite of Cacosmia, or the hallucination of a good smell, is called “Agathosma”.

The cause of Cacosmia is not pinpointed to one specific reason.  Most of the time it is a result of an injury to the olfactory pathways — remember that the sense of smell is a chemical reaction of your brain perceiving specific airborne molecules.  The molecules bind to olfactory receptors in the tissue found lining the back of your nasal cavity, which generates the specific nerve impulses that travel to the olfactory bulb and then on to other areas of the brain. 

Any damage (i.e. viral infections, trauma) to any of these tissues can cause a problem and potentially bring about Cacosmia.  Additionally, these hallucinations have occasionally been found to be a symptom of both brain tumors and epilepsy, so should you ever experience it yourself you should immediately contact your doctor and/or a qualified neurologist.  There is no direct cure for Cacosmia, as it is a symptom of a separate issue.  Once the cause for the Cacosmia is found and treated, the Cacosmia itself will most times cease to exist as well.

With all of the horrible smells that already exist in today’s world, to have an issue with imagining bad smells is a thought that is somewhat inconceivable to me.


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