Covid-19 and loss of smell: IMPORTANT news for noses

We know that there are many rumours swirling around the coronavirus, but we felt that this was worth circulating to a community which is highly tuned into its sense of smell.

Top ENT specialists have pinpointed loss of sense of smell – a.k.a. ‘anosmia’ – as a potential symptom of those carrying the Covid-19 virus, who are otherwise asymptomatic.

Previously, we were told to look out for symptoms such as a high fever and a new continuous, dry cough – and for people with those symptoms to self-isolate within their own homes. Scientists suspected, however, that the wide-spreading of the virus has, in part, been due to otherwise seemingly healthy people going out and about – unaware that they are carrying the virus and unwittingly infecting others.

The British Association of Otorhinolaryngology (ENT UK) published a statement that these anosmia symptoms had been found among ‘…a number of patients in the “absence of other symptoms”‘.

Professor Claire Hopkins, president of the British Rhinological Society, and Professor Nirmal Kumar, president of ENT UK, remarked in the joint statement, published online, that they’d noticed a significant and sudden rise ‘in cases of isolated anosmia’ — total or partial smell loss — in the UK, US, France and northern Italy.

The statement goes on to remark that they ‘…think these patients may be some of the hitherto hidden carriers that have facilitated the rapid spread of Covid-19,’ commenting that, ‘Unfortunately, these patients do not meet current criteria for testing or self isolation.’

As fragrance-lovers we are generally more in-tune with our noses and sense of smell than the majority of people, simply due to the fact we spend so much time focussing on scent, concentrating on how it smells. (And, of course, lavishly spraying ourselves in our favourites and describing them to others.) Therefore, we are perhaps in a better place to notice a loss of smell more immediately. And therefore – more importantly – to act on it.

Although current government guidelines on self-isolating with signs of coronavirus do not yet specifically mention the loss of smell as a symptom, it is worth pointing out that the advice DOES state that we should self-isolate and take extra precautions if you are displaying any symptoms at all, ‘however mild’.

What to do if you have recently lost your sense of smell:

As of last night, the government have enforced a complete ‘lockdown’ within the U.K. – a precaution that the French authorities undertook a week ago. Now that the ENT specialists have made the link between a loss of smell as a clue you may be a carrier of Covid-19, even if you don’t have a high temperature or a cough, if you live with other people, the advice is that you should take extra precations and self-isolate as much as possible within your own house.

This means not sharing bathrooms or kitchens, if at all possible. Where only one bathroom or kitchen is available, there are other measures you can take to prevent the spread of infection – such as not sharing towels or tea-towels, and information about how to thoroughly clean your shared living space.

Currently it seems the majority of those who did lose their sense of smell due to carrying the Covid-19 virus are reporting that they have fully recovered their sense of smell after around a month (much quicker in the case of one sufferer we know personally), though these are early days and much has still to be learned. Fifth Sense, a U.K. charity for those with smell and taste disorders, also have a useful article on their website regarding Covid-19 and the loss of smell.

Another source of contact for those who have lost their sense of smell – through a virus, due to medication or from birth – is the recently established charity AbScent which has lots of great advice on their website.

These are scary things to read, indeed, and of course worrying times for us all. But there is good news coming out of China, for those who are recovering and for whom life is slowly going back to (an albeit new) kind of normality. This has only been achieved by everyone working together, following the guidelines and self-isolating.

As difficult as this is, we CAN get through this together, and we shall emerge with a new sense of just how important it is to talk to our neighbours, to check in on the most vulnerable within our communities, and to grasp every moment of freedom and health with joy. Even if that’s only meeting a friend for coffee or going to an art gallery or literally stopping to smell the roses. How we shall treasure those moments anew when we can do them, freely, again.

And we shall do, we shall.

Stay safe, dear fragrant friends.

By Suzy Nightingale

Fragrant reads we recommend: Nose Dive by Catherine Haley Epstein

This week we’re diving in nose-first to Catherine Haley Epstein‘s Nose Dive – a brilliant book for adventurous noses. We have a whole scented bookshelf of Fragrant Reads we recommend, so do please feel free to browse at your leisure, from literary to scientific and everything in-between.

Meanwhile, let’s get up close and personal with our sense of smell, and re-connect our sense of wonder as we read…

On the back of the book, author, artist and scent-maker, Catherine Haley Epstein, introduces her book in a way that intrigued and delighted us immediately. Describing it as a handbook for taking ‘…Adventures for your nose in art, anthropology, and science, the book Nose Dive is a broad introduction to olfactory culture meant for artists or anyone curious about the power of scent.’ Well that’s pretty much a checklist of our intersts, so we were eager to learn more, and Epstein contnues: ‘Something is in the air with respect to our most powerful and least regarded sense. This book demystifies the world of scent, provides springboards for further study, and presents exercises for shifting gears with your nose. A must-read for anyone intrigued by the superpower right under our noses.’ Consider us sold!

Epstein was lovely enough to send us a first-edition copy of her book with a letter, saying further that she wrote it because she wanted ‘…to invite dialogue from the different aspects of the scent arena.’ And also explaining the cover of the book is ‘Tiffany blue… not for the reason you might think – it’s actually the colour of my favourite smell, a pool toy.’

You know what they say about finding kindred spirits? We think she’s definitely one of us

Reading Nose Dive is an absolute must for anyone of us who’s wanted to dive deeper than merely smelling nice by spraying something beautiful, deeper still than having a particular memory connected to smell – Epstein manages to express both a childish glee at this super-power right under (and in) our noses, while explaining some complex theories and inviting the reader to explore. There are short, easily digestible chapters on Art, the science of smelling, things to consider when making a perfume and on extolling the utter joy that our sense of smell can bring. On that first thorny issue of art, and in answer to the on-going debate as to whether perfume ‘deserves’ to be classed as such, Epstein puts it perfectly by saying, simply, that ‘Art is translation. Art is a human-specific activity for translating our experiences, using whatever mediums we can.’

Along with theoretical discussions, pondering on her own years of research and development, Epstein also offers some practical exercises for those interested in making their own fragrances, or things to think about, study and and enjoy in your own time. Half the joy of Nose Dive, in fact, is that it doesn’t pretend to have all the answers or place itself on a pedestal to preach about perfume to the already converted. Neither does it simply re-hash historical references and methods of making fragrance or only focus on new, exciting niche houses. This is a well-considered work that manages to pack in some powerful topics and truly thoughtful themes into such a slim volume, you can practically feel the waves of excitement about perfume and smell pulsating from every page. Not only to read and enjoy for yourself, we suggest this is one to press into the hands of everyone who’s ever asked you why you’re so obsessed with scent… Spread the love!

Nose Dive by Catherine Haley Epstein, $25 catherinehaleyepstein.com

By Suzy Nightingale

Living without your sense of smell

Despite many recent technological and fascinating biological discoveries, our sense of smell remains the least explored and perhaps still most misunderstood of all our senses – despite being so important to our every day lives. And the sudden loss of smell, or having lived with no sense of smell at all, can be utterly devastating, and Fifth Sense have launched a film to explain…

Smell isn’t simply a pleasure, it makes up a huge percentage of how we taste, helps us navigate our understanding of the world we live in and form connections and relationships with those closest to us. So when people lose their sense of smell – through injury, illness or because of the medication they’re taking – it can be a life-changing and deeply disorientating time, and we refer to this as experiencing ‘anosmia’. And then there are those born without a sense of smell at all, or an impaired sense, who perhaps don’t realise at first, but come to feel left out, ignored, and as though their inability to smell doesn’t matter.

Fifth Sense is a UK charity specifically for people affected by smell and taste disorders, offering support, advice and conducting their own research, as well as running workshops, seminars and get-togethers for those who have hitherto felt abandoned by the medical profession, or misunderstood by well-meaning friends and family.

‘The smell of cut grass, freshly baked bread, childhood memories, lost loved ones. What happens when it’s all gone?’ This is the question asked in a new film launched on YouTube, highlighted by Fifth Sense, on the University of East Anglia’s channel, which you can watch below…

Fifth Sense was founded by Duncan Boak, who lost his sense of smell and taste following a head injury in 2005,and has worked so hard to make this condition at least more understood, and taken seriously.

We encounter people all the time who sadly tell us they can’t smell, or that their sense of smell has become impaired, and they feel so lost. If you are one of these people, please do get in touch with Fifth Sense, because there’s a whole community of people out there who totally understand what you’re going through. And there ARE ways to help. Indeed, Duncan himself attended one of our How to Improve Your Sense of Smell workshops (keep an eye on our Events page for when the next ones are due for 2020) and became quite emotional having blind-smelling a fragrance, realising he had written some of the same key words others (without impaired smell) had.

In those moments – and watching films like this – we realise quite how important our sense of smell is…

By Suzy Nightingale

 

Leonardo da Vinci’s secret scented formula

Art experts use x-rays and scientific tests to help determine the authenticity of a masterpiece painting, but soon they could well be using their noses, too…

While researching a painting called Donna Nuda – believed to be by a contemporary follower of Leonardo da Vinci rather than the artist himself, but conducted under his close supervision – experts were greeted with a unique smell of the materials used within the painting, described as ‘…the fresh smell of a forest after the rain.’

The technique used is, necessarily, non-invasive, and Martin Kemp – a leading authority on da Vinci, based at Trinity College, Oxford, has excitedly commented that this method of scented investigation, when used as a prototype to test the authenticity of other paitings, could hold enormous potential for the future of art attribution.

Gleb Zilberstein and his co-authors had previously used the technique to discover traces of morphine on the manuscript of Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel, The Master and Margarita, as well as analysing Anthony Chekhov’s blood-stained shirt, and finding evidence of tuberculosis. The team will publish their full findings in the Journal of Proteomics, but for those of us not quite up to the technical language, a more basic explanation of the way it works is this:

Acetate film embedded with charged particles is placed on sections of the painting. The film is analysed by gas and liquid spectrometry and chromatography – run through a computer which can separate and identify every component the object is composed of, allowing researchers to pick out particular areas of interest and actually smell them, individually.

The same technology is used to analyse traces of vintage fragrances, or to capture the smell of a thunderstorm, for example, and allow a perfumer to recreate it. But this is the first time it’s been used to analyse and identify the materials of a painting. This way, the tem discovered a unique mixture of egg yolk, linseed and rosemary oil had been used by Leonardo’s Protégé, and as they were learning his exact techniques, they would have used the same paint mixtures – perhaps even mixed by the hand of da Vinci himself.

Researchers concluded that rosemary oil had been used in some sections to ‘enhance the sense of depth’ by blurring a background – just like the Portrait mode on a modern iPhone – and that they hope to use the technology to create a ‘decay curve’, so as to further help pinpoint the date of a painting by studying the smell and decomposition of organic materials.

Zilberstein commented that it was a ‘magical moment’ to smell odours that had been trapped beneath the surface of the painting for over 400 years, and explained that now, ‘for the first time the deciphering of the recipes used by Leonardo was possible…’

By Suzy Nightingale

Perfume: watch the new Netflix series for fragrance-lovers to feast on

Like your perfume dark and mysterious? Well you’re certainly in for a treat…

We’re sure the majority of you will have read, or at least be aware of Patrick Süskind‘s novel,  Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, and will perhaps also have enjoyed the 2006 movie adaptation. Now Netflix are further indulging the senses of the scent-obsessed by exploring the story at greater length, in a new original drama series, simply called Perfume.

The spin they’ve added is a contemporary German setting, following the story of a group of six students who bond together in boarding school through their intense passion for scent. When one of the six is brutally murdered years later, disturbing secrets about the group are revealed as the police investigates each one as a scented suspect.

The cast includes August Diehl and Ken Duken who were both in Inglourious Basterds, Christian Friedel (The White Ribbon) and Wotan Wilke Mohring (Valkyrie), and the whole series is directed by international Emmy-award-winning Philipp Kadelbach.

With such a gloriously gruesome backstory and dark subject matter for exploration, it’s certainly not one to binge on for the faint of heart, but we have no doubt fragrance lovers will at least be interested to give it a go. Have a look at the trailer, below, and see what you think…

Suzy Nightingale

Scenting the airwaves – perfume themed podcasts we recommend

Fragrance is filling the air(waves) right now, with a plethora of perfumed podcasts to catch up with – some fairly recently released episodes, and some other (for us) just-discovered gems.
At The Perfume Society, we’ve long held that the topic of fragrance and our sense of smell is perhaps at the point food and wine were not all that long ago: something the general public are waking up to as a valid subject to explore, enjoy and discuss in depth.

Perfect to download and enjoy while commuting, these will ease you gently from wearing pyjamas past midday while mainly eating a cheese and chocolate-based diet; or perhaps to to catch up with while chilling this weekend…

Fume Chat: The Filth Battle
Fellow ‘fumehead Katie Puckrik joins regular hosts, Thomas and Nick, to judge a battle of their perfume picks that smell nothing short of downright dirty. Our very favourite kind! You’ll come for the fragrances and stay for the banter.

The Conversation: Perfume Makers
How do you capture and bottle a scent? Two perfume makers from France and Malaysia talk to Kim Chakanetsa about how they’ve trained their noses to smell over 1,000 different raw ingredients.

What’s the Tee?
RuPaul and co-host Michelle Visage spend much of this episode discussing their love of perfume, with Michelle in particular proving to be well-up on her niche houses and with seemingly quite a collection. Such a pleasure to hear people be passionate about things they love, don’t you think?

Two Sense: Perfumer & Flavorist Podcast
Flavour and fragrance are inextricably linked, and indeed many perfume companies create for both sectors. Perfumer & Flavorist sit down with Ewan Morgan, national director of Diageo, to discuss what goes into crafting a quality whisky.

The Why Factor: Perfume
For centuries perfume has been used to show status and wealth and the global business is worth now worth tens of billions of dollars, so clearly fragrance is more popular than ever. Here the BBc’s Mike Williams talks to an historian and archaeologist about why we use perfume and what, exactly, it says about us.

Histories of the Unexpected: Perfume
Presenters Dr Sam Willis and Professor James Daybell ‘argue’ that everything has a history (well, yes) here delving in to our favourite topic (obvs).

Making Scents: The Story of Perfume
Bridget Kendall and guests explore the modern history of perfume, including its flowering in France and the explosive chemical discoveries that helped to make fine fragrance what it is today.

The Pool: Perfume: A Century of Scents
Lizzie Ostrum (aka Odette Toilette) discusses her brilliant book, beginning with the story of CK One and how it came to epitomise the 1990s.

Stuff You Should Know: How Perfume Works
Josh and Chuck are the very laid-back and affable hosts who plunge into topics they previously knew little or nothing about, sharing their research with listeners. There are hundreds of episodes covering everything from corsets to cults, but of course we zoomed in on the perfume episode…

Do let us know if there are any more you’ve heard – we’re always on the lookout for further fragrant recommendations!

Written by Suzy Nightingale

 

 

IFRA's Fragrance Forum put our sense of smell on the map…

Every year, IFRA – the trade association promoting the safe creation, development and enjoyment of fragrance) organise a Fragrance Forum – an utterly fascinating coming together of highly engaging speakers with experts from just about every sector you can imagine – all of whom are linked by their expertise and interest in the sense of smell. We were thrilled to be invited along for their seventh Forum as part of the fragrance press, and so found ourselves learning the power of Medical Detection Dogs, how to make a Mosquito Invisibility Cape, how to smell-map a city, how the Pre-Raphaelites responded to the stench of the river Thames (by linking it to paintings of fallen women, it turns out), the difference between Synaesthesia (one of my favourite subjects ever) and cross-modal correspondences, and font-sniffing (as in: can you smell/taste/hear typefaces? Short story: yes.)
To give you a taste of the breadth and diversity of the subjects covered, here’s a little more about the speakers and the topics they spoke about so passionately. In a Fragrance Forum for which the theme was Scents & Sensibility (a nod to this year marking the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death), we left with a renewed excitement of the sense that some neglect, but which many of us have built our careers and, indeed, our lives around…
Dr Claire Guest – Sniffing it out
CEO Medical Detection Dogs
Claire has been involved in the training of dogs for tasks involving scent for over twenty years. Since 2002 she has been professionally involved in training dogs in the detection of human disease through scent. She is now the CEO of Medical Detection Dogs (MDD) the leading charity training dogs, pioneering both medical assistance and disease detection, and is not only a pioneer of the training but committed to carrying out empirical research to improve operations and to inform future medical technologies.

Professor James Logan How to make a mosquito invisibility cloak
London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
James has more than 10 years of experience in the laboratory and field – in the UK and overseas – of controlling insects of medical and veterinary importance. He has an award-winning PhD investigating why some people are bitten more than others by mosquitoes and midges. Mosquito-borne diseases affect more than half the world’s population, diseases transmitted by insects account for more than 17% of all infectious diseases, causing more than one million deaths. By understanding more about mosquitoes and their incredible sense of smell, we can develop better ways to control one of the world’s most formidable forces. One day, we may even be able to make ourselves completely invisible.

Key theme: Scent and our surroundings
Kate McLean – Programme Director for Graphic Design at Canterbury Christ Church University
Dr Daniele Quercia – Bell Labs, Cambridge
On the Impossibility of Mapping the Smellscape
Kate McLean is a British artist and designer and mapper of urban smellscapes – the term used to describe the odour landscape around us. She runs smellscape mapping workshops, leads smellwalks around the world and has co-edited a book, Designing with Smell: Practices, Techniques and Challenges (2017). Her talk looked at how interative design research can be used to investigate how the general public perceives and reacts to smells in public spaces.
Daniele Quercia leads the Social Dynamics group at Bell Labs in Cambridge. He has been named one of Fortune magazine’s 2014 Data All-Stars, and spoke about “happy maps” at TED. His research has been focusing in the area of urban informatics, focussing on the fact that, although humans are able to potentially discriminate thousands of different odours, smell is simply hard to measure. SmellyMaps have recently proposed a new way of capturing the entire urban smellscape from social media data (i.e., tags on Flickr pictures or tweets). The SmellyMaps project aims at disrupting the mainly negative view of city odours and being able to celebrate the complex smells of our cities.

Dr Christina Bradstreet – Art, Smell and Sanitation
The National Gallery
Christina is Courses and Events Programmer at the National Gallery and she has taught 19th-century painting at Birkbeck College as well as guest lectures at Sotheby’s Institute, Royal Holloway College and the Courtauld Institute. So, how did the Pre-Raphaelites respond to the stench of the River Thames, in the summer of 1858? This talk explored how the urban stink influenced artists in Britain and beyond in the nineteenth-century.

Key theme: Scent and psychology
Dr Clare Jonas – Synaesthesia – a blending of the senses
University of East London
Synaesthesia is a fascinating condition in which the senses become entangled so that music might appear to have shapes, or smells have colours. In this talk Clare explored what synaesthesia is and how it relates to mechanisms of multisensory perception in the general population. She also explored visual aspects of art, advertising and packaging and how psychological research links them to taste and smell.

Sarah Hyndman – Wake up and smell the fonts!
Founder and Director, Type Tasting
Type Tasting founder Sarah Hyndman is a graphic designer, author and public speaker, known for her interest in the psychology of type. Her main area of expertise is multi sensory typography, she works on collaborative research studies with the Crossmodal Research Laboratory at the University of Oxford. In her talk Sarah explored how visual language influences all of our senses as it tells the story of a product. The visual translation of luxury, gender or smell creates anticipation, informs our choices and enhances our experiences.
Innovative new research into crossmodal perception is now mapping the typography of smell – understanding this enables us to use visual language to accentuate nuances and nudge behaviour… just one of the many subjects we left wanting to explore in more depth, so stay tuned for our further investigations!
Written by Suzy Nightingale