I’d like to direct your attention toward an excellent discussion of today’s news about the cold “remedy” Zicam. Dr. Novella and the commenters have hit on all the major points; I can’t improve on it.
I would, however, like to give you a personal look at anosmia, or the absence of a sense of smell. It is not at all OK. I have rather nasty seasonal allergies and I also get a lot of upper respiratory tract infections (presumably due to my constant exposure). Several years ago, I came home from the hospital with a nasty cold, had some soup, and went to bed. The next morning I got up and made a pot of coffee. I checked the pot a couple of times to see if it was working as I didn’t smell it brewing. I poured a cup; it was nice an hot. I took one sip, and spit it out. It tasted terrible. I couldn’t smell any of the subtle aromas of the coffee. All I could appreciate was the bitterness on my tongue. Breakfast was similarly horrid. I could appreciate some sweetness and sourness in the yogurt, but that was it.
This was my first experience with anosmia, and everything was different. I couldn’t smell the gas from the stove, the exhaust of the traffic, or the upholstery in my car. The antiseptic smell of the hospital was gone, but so was the smell of urine. It turns out, though, that many “smells” have a strong “taste” component. Certain unpleasant smells, such as the diarrhea associated with C. diff colitis, were still apparent to me, but instead of sensing it in my nose, I sensed it in my mouth. This shift of sensory focus was not a welcome experience.
It took about a month for my sense of smell to fully recover. I’ve become fully or partly anosmic almost yearly since, and it’s one of the things about winter that I dread. I certainly don’t need any help losing that particular sense.