"Scented candles: An unexpected victim of the COVID-19 pandemic"
November 28, 2020 3:56 AM   Subscribe

On Twitter, Terri Nelson noted the proliferation of complaints on Yankee Candle's website about the lack of scent in their scented candles. Kate Petrova responded (Threadreader version) with a tweet thread analyzing Amazon reviews for scented candles before and during the pandemic, and the results are interesting (and very easy to understand). posted by ardgedee (91 comments total) 66 users marked this as a favorite
 
(via a post by the_adriator on mltshp)
posted by ardgedee at 4:05 AM on November 28, 2020


Mine isn't fully back yet and it's driving me crazy. I light my candles anyway...
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 4:20 AM on November 28, 2020 [3 favorites]


2020 may be the worst year ever, but it's also going to provide opportunities for analysis and study for generations to come that nobody has even imagined yet. So, mixed-bag, I suppose.
posted by hippybear at 5:05 AM on November 28, 2020 [7 favorites]


The month by month plot of reviews mentioning lack of scent is something, huh.
posted by subdee at 6:31 AM on November 28, 2020 [6 favorites]


This is such a strange thing for me.

I had flu-like symptoms (fever & chills) around the time that COVID arrived in my area. Within a week of that I had lost my sense of smell completely, and it didn't recover for some months. On recovering, everything smelled very *strange* and terrible. I've been doing 'smell training' to try to get things normalized.

The thing is, I have *no idea* whether to attribute this to COVID or to a *very rare* side effect of a medication I was taking at the time. I also don't really see a point in doing an antibody test because I don't think it would change my behaviour at all, knowing that I'd had it.

Still, it's a curiosity.
posted by jpziller at 6:32 AM on November 28, 2020 [7 favorites]


I saw the original tweet floating around social media and wondered if COVID really could explain these reviews so thank you for this.
posted by subdee at 6:33 AM on November 28, 2020 [2 favorites]


What I love about this study is … it’s the human condition, writ small. Always locating the problem outside of ourselves.
posted by anshuman at 6:43 AM on November 28, 2020 [56 favorites]


On our Thanksgiving zoom call, my niece told me Harry Styles saved her life. She bought a copy of Vogue because Harry was on the cover. Sniffed the included perfume sample. And then rushed to get tested because she couldn’t smell anything. She’s now isolated from the rest of the family. Harry probably did help her to catch it early.

And after she told me, I ran across the Yankee Candle tweets that same evening. Had the same creepy feeling as the start of a horror film when everyone starts to notice the weirdness at the same time.
posted by Teegeeack AV Club Secretary at 6:54 AM on November 28, 2020 [129 favorites]


I love this. Shared it with so many people yesterday as a great example of analysis.

My partner lost her sense of smell and taste in mid March. It was gone completely for maybe 4 weeks, then returned slowly. Some things still smell and taste a bit odd to her even now.

She had a bit of a strange feeling in her nose, but basically asymptomatic otherwise. I had no symptoms at all and no issues with my senses!

My WhatsApp messages from 21 March are full of me going "whaat? They're saying sense of smell could be a covid symptom now! [Partner] has lost hers! :-o"
posted by knapah at 7:06 AM on November 28, 2020 [4 favorites]


Those graphs are really interesting. That is a neat way to extract data from a source I would not have thought of.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:16 AM on November 28, 2020 [1 favorite]


The thing I don't understand is how people could possibly perceive a lack of scent in the candles and not notice a general absence of other scents/odors in their day-to-day lives as well. I'm not someone who is particularly tuned in to scents and odors, but like most humans I cook/eat food, have bowel movements, occasionally procrastinate taking out the trash, open the door to the spice cabinet, etc....
posted by Larry David Syndrome at 7:28 AM on November 28, 2020 [27 favorites]


I'm allergic to most of these sorts of scents, so I've had opportunities to observe people being asked to remove their artificial scents from their living spaces. From what I've noticed, people who heavily use scented candles (/air fresheners/other) in their living spaces often *don't* notice other scents, because they're all being obscured by Glade Fresh Meadows or Yankee Candle Fireside Man Scent or whatever. For at least some of these types of candle users, covering up every other scent with the candle is the point.

The lack of candle scent will stand out to them, because they're used to being able to smell the candle. But because they usually burn out all other scents with the candles, they're already used to not noticing those smells.

I don't think this is true for everyone who uses candles, mind you. But I do think it's true of a large enough number of candle users - likely including many super-users - to explain why some of the users are blaming the candle instead of the COVID.
posted by pie ninja at 7:49 AM on November 28, 2020 [53 favorites]


I can easily understand it -- you don't necessarily notice the absence of intermittent smells you aren't specifically looking to smell. The garbage isn't always foul, and you don't open the garbage can thinking 'oh, this one is going to be rank'. Whereas when you pick up a candle you bought specifically for the purpose of smelling it and it doesn't smell, well...
posted by jacquilynne at 7:50 AM on November 28, 2020 [20 favorites]


This is great. And Kate Petrova's Twitter is a good find in general for lay person friendly links to research on human behaviour.
posted by latkes at 7:55 AM on November 28, 2020 [2 favorites]


Wow... this is the first pro-covid post I've ever read here... Can someone guarantee my loss of sense of smell for Yankee Candles?
posted by Nanukthedog at 7:59 AM on November 28, 2020 [49 favorites]


the world will not be free until the last yankee candle patron smothers to death in the fumes of the last can of Axe body spray.
posted by logicpunk at 8:08 AM on November 28, 2020 [28 favorites]


Can you imagine the existential terror of working at a Yankee Candle store or Bath and Body Works and dealing with customers returning candles and lotions because they have no smell? And only making minimum wage with no health benefits?
posted by photoslob at 8:21 AM on November 28, 2020 [141 favorites]


I did advertising work for Glade scented-stuff products. One thing I learned from the research—and there is a LOT of research—is that many (even most) Glade scented-stuff buyers/users use a HUGE amount of the product. People that use these kinds of things use them often and use them heavily. I'm gonna guess that most MeFites do not use heavy amounts of scented candles/air fresheners, etc. Just a data point.

Interesting post.
posted by SoberHighland at 8:26 AM on November 28, 2020 [26 favorites]


I had flu-like symptoms (fever & chills) around the time that COVID arrived in my area. Within a week of that I had lost my sense of smell completely, and it didn't recover for some months. On recovering, everything smelled very *strange* and terrible. I've been doing 'smell training' to try to get things normalized.

The thing is, I have *no idea* whether to attribute this to COVID or to a *very rare* side effect of a medication I was taking at the time.


It might also have been caused by a non-COVID virus. I lost my sense of smell for two weeks back in 2014 after a particularly nasty cold (yes, even after the congestion had cleared up). COVID isn’t the only virus that can do this; it just appears to be much more common with COVID than with anything else.
posted by snowmentality at 8:33 AM on November 28, 2020 [5 favorites]


I don't think this is true for everyone who uses candles, mind you. But I do think it's true of a large enough number of candle users - likely including many super-users - to explain why some of the users are blaming the candle instead of the COVID.

One thing I learned from the research—and there is a LOT of research—is that many (even most) Glade scented-stuff buyers/users use a HUGE amount of the product. People that use these kinds of things use them often and use them heavily.

I am both amused and horrified by the idea of a "candle super-user".
posted by mhoye at 8:38 AM on November 28, 2020 [9 favorites]


spend less on candles
posted by wreckingball at 8:43 AM on November 28, 2020 [26 favorites]


Speaking of "super-users": I also did some ad work for a brand of those coffee-sweetener/flavoring/creamer things... like the faux-dairy hazelnut cinnamon mochacchino kinds of gloop you can buy in a supermarket. We had a briefing based on research (again: there is a LOT of research) and as part of the briefing we had a tasting. We tried various flavors, and us effete, city-slicker advertising types put some in coffee and tried it to our general dislike. The research person told us that many users of this stuff drink as much as 1/3 flavored syrup-gloop to 2/3rds coffee—or more. Like half coffee, half flavored non-dairy sweetened creamer-flavoring stuff. Many folks who use that stuff use a LOT of that stuff.
posted by SoberHighland at 8:44 AM on November 28, 2020 [27 favorites]


Candle super-users ABSOLUTELY exist.

It's not just Mefites who usually don't use candles. I do apartment walks and I'd say most people (at least in the US, I can't speak for other areas) don't use Glade or candles to the point where the scent is apparent to me (and again, I'm allergic, so I usually notice). Maybe they burn a candle some evenings as a nice atmosphere thing, and there's a bit of a scent. But it's not perfuming the entire apartment.

The people who use Glade/candles/other to the point where it's smell-able across the full unit are rare, but the typical user is using SO MUCH of the stuff that I can barely breathe. It's like perfume - if you use it regularly, it burns out your ability to smell it, so you keep using more and more of it to keep getting the same hit of scent.
posted by pie ninja at 8:45 AM on November 28, 2020 [22 favorites]


> It might also have been caused by a non-COVID virus. I lost my sense of smell for two weeks back in 2014 after a particularly nasty cold (yes, even after the congestion had cleared up). COVID isn’t the only virus that can do this; it just appears to be much more common with COVID than with anything else.

that cold may have been caused by one of the previously endemic coronaviruses (even if it wasn't sars-cov-2/covid-19)
posted by and they trembled before her fury at 9:05 AM on November 28, 2020 [2 favorites]


Can someone guarantee my loss of sense of smell for Yankee Candles?

Ooh, ooh — can someone please engineer a covid specific to Lush stores and Subway bread stank?
posted by scruss at 9:08 AM on November 28, 2020 [22 favorites]


And people wonder how the data hoovers seem like they know everything...

This is definitely an interesting piece of work both for backing up the epidemiology and in the sense of humans being fucking bizarre.
posted by wierdo at 9:09 AM on November 28, 2020 [4 favorites]


This pandemic has been the first time I've been thankful to be able to smell litter boxes and pit bull sweat.
posted by Foosnark at 9:12 AM on November 28, 2020 [6 favorites]


When we bought our first house, we did not catch on to the fact that they had multiple Yankee Candles burning every time we toured the house. Then we moved in and discovered what their 2 dogs and 4 cats had done to the carpets... live and learn.
posted by sockshaveholes at 9:13 AM on November 28, 2020 [18 favorites]




The people who use Glade/candles/other to the point where it's smell-able across the full unit are rare, but the typical user is using SO MUCH of the stuff that I can barely breathe. It's like perfume - if you use it regularly, it burns out your ability to smell it, so you keep using more and more of it to keep getting the same hit of scent



Is this why Uber/Lyft drivers feel the need to oversaturate their cars with those little attached to the air vent air fresheners? I wish there was an option on the app to specify no air fresheners please. So many times I have both back windows down, regardless of weather, and still my tongue feels swollen from the fumes and all I can think about is how many cancer chemicals I've just inhaled.
posted by newpotato at 9:34 AM on November 28, 2020 [8 favorites]


The thing I don't understand is how people could possibly perceive a lack of scent in the candles and not notice a general absence of other scents/odors in their day-to-day lives as well.

I wonder about this too because if you cannot smell, you lose a significant amount of your ability to taste. A friend who is 3 weeks out from onset of symptoms was commenting this morning that so far she's just been eating stuff just trying to find something that really has a flavor, but figures there will come a point where tasteless food will become offputting - I think I've seen Mefites comment on that aspect of it as well. I don't understand how you could be unable to smell a Yankee "Can Be Smelled From Space" Candle and NOT notice you can't taste your (likely heavily flavored, as noted above) coffee, food, or alcohol.

...unless you've been using so many Yankee Candles you haven't been able to taste things for a long time. I guess that's possible. Or you are a terrible cook and don't drink coffee.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:38 AM on November 28, 2020 [5 favorites]


I heard from a Covid survivor who lost her sense of smell for a few weeks. She said food turned into flavorless clay/mush and was actually off-putting. Happily she recovered, but the loss of smell and taste was extremely disturbing to her. She was frightened that it would never come back. She even lost some weight even though she was not trying to lose weight.
posted by SoberHighland at 9:43 AM on November 28, 2020 [4 favorites]


I think the Yankee Candle thing is a "main smell turn on" situation. One (= not me) lights one to get a familiar smell, and when it doesn't deliver, grar ensues.

Coronaviruses are weird. Had one give me arthritis on and off for about a decade. Everyone else around me seemed to have it at the time, but they didn't have lingering symptoms.
posted by scruss at 9:44 AM on November 28, 2020 [2 favorites]


What is it in "synthetic scents" that people are allergic to? I recall only once encountering such a person and out of respect I disabled the artificial scents but I definitely thought to myself "that sounds like a solid excuse to give to when you just don't like 'fake' smells or whatever." Seen it too many times today to be able to dismiss it, but I'd like to know more. Is it specific chemicals that trigger an allergy response or is it one of the common chems used to facilitate these scents or what? Why do the chemicals in "real" scents not cause allergic reactions in people? What is the allergic reaction in this case, hives, runny nose, itching, swelling, etc?

I don't own any candles now but I used to enjoy scented candles quite a bit, especially the fun ones like chopped up grass or dirt. If I ever lived somewhere nicer than the places I've lived for as long as I've lived on my own, I think I would definitely get one scented candle again. A candle seems a bit like putting on airs in a room wit ha crooked floor and sometimes you can smell dead things that died under the house (or it might be mold or just animals pissing there).
posted by GoblinHoney at 9:53 AM on November 28, 2020 [4 favorites]


I have to wonder if "super users" who blast all odors in their living space to oblivion with the overwhelming smell of plastic mountain meadows are otherwise, uh, hygienically challenged in ways that help spread contagion
posted by Vulgar Euphemism at 9:55 AM on November 28, 2020


I would posit that the drop involved people, by dint of being forced to live for extended spans of time in their homes in close proximity to these candles, would realize what a goddamn nightmare scented candles are. At that point, their initial delight at the idea of scenting their rooms like pineapple peppermint or lavender pine or pumpkin latte froth would turn to a clear-eyed horror at having to smell this shit all day long.
posted by the sobsister at 9:59 AM on November 28, 2020 [1 favorite]


What is it in "synthetic scents" that people are allergic to? I recall only once encountering such a person and out of respect I disabled the artificial scents but I definitely thought to myself "that sounds like a solid excuse to give to when you just don't like 'fake' smells or whatever."

My dad used to refuse to enter the mall through a certain door because it's where the perfume counter was and it would give him migraines just to walk past them. I don't think he would have said he had an "allergy" per se but it was definitely a migraine trigger.

TBH your comment comes off weirdly dismissive, like you've been told one too many times to tone down the smelly stuff and you think the asker was being a big baby. Not saying that's necessarily true but that's how it sounded to me.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:01 AM on November 28, 2020 [54 favorites]


Now someone should do a triple correlation between reviews/sales of scented candles, deodorants/perfumes and pyjamas/sweatpants vs. shirts/dress trousers, to determine the relative influence of not going out vs. loss of smell on personal odour control sales.
posted by acb at 10:02 AM on November 28, 2020 [1 favorite]


I had flu-like symptoms (fever & chills) around the time that COVID arrived in my area. Within a week of that I had lost my sense of smell completely, and it didn't recover for some months. On recovering, everything smelled very *strange* and terrible. I've been doing 'smell training' to try to get things normalized.

This sounds like "parosmia."
... cells in the olfactory epithelium can regenerate after they have been damaged. But that regeneration can take time—up to two years, or more. “If it's affecting mature neurons, then the immature neurons need to mature fully and connect to the olfactory bulb,” she says. “Then the next wave of neurons needs to be generated to continue that process.”

Rawson says that because the brain is receiving incomplete smell information, “when the recovery process is happening in patches, or recovery is partial in different regions, you may go through that stage of parosmia on the way to a fuller recovery.”
posted by BungaDunga at 10:03 AM on November 28, 2020 [9 favorites]


GoblinHoney, I'm not sure what it is, I wish I could say. I try telling people I am not allergic to "smells" or "strong smells" or "perfume" but to some compound that exists in stuff that has been scented. I've wondered if it's some sort of hyacynthoid compound or something as they will break me out in coldsores on my mouth within half an hour of being in the same room as one.

With regards to "scented" smells, it's a bit like having another sense for me, I can literally walk into and out of a scent trail left by someone walking, and we diagnosed a faulty air-thing at work because I could literally notice where somone's perfume was "pooling" at a certain point in the room.

Whatever is is, if it's in your product I won't be just smelling it, I will be tasting it in my mouth and spitting, I will be nauseous and get a headache and will be more susceptible to my cat allergy, if I get stuck with a cat-hair person later that day I will likely have a bad attack.
posted by Iteki at 10:05 AM on November 28, 2020 [31 favorites]


For the record I will sniff sharpies all day long, I breath deep at the gas station, eat kimchi like it was my job, and whatever that specific smell you get in a cytology lab is, I love that, so I am not "sensitive to chemicals" or "sensitive to strong smells", there is a specific thing in your product that is making me want to vom (and probably giving you cancer).
posted by Iteki at 10:07 AM on November 28, 2020 [30 favorites]


I'm generally OK with scented candles, perfumes and such. I enjoy some perfumes and colognes quite a bit. But there's that weird artificial "hazelnut" smell (at least I think that's what it is) that drives me nuts, almost makes me feel sick. It smells like artificial maple to me (I love real maple syrup, so it's not the maple itself) and the scent just plain lingers. It's definitely in hazelnut coffee, but I can smell it in certain other scents. I find it really repulsive and I can smell it from far away. Even typing this out imagining it makes me a bit queasy.
posted by SoberHighland at 10:10 AM on November 28, 2020 [5 favorites]


migraines for me. some "real" scents too. pretty much all perfumes and air fresheners. been wondering whether covid-related loss of sense of smell would alleviate the issue, but suspect i'd get the debilitating headache and just not notice the scent.
posted by 20 year lurk at 10:11 AM on November 28, 2020 [6 favorites]


As someone who has a very sensitive sense of smell, I have a hard time identifying with people who have lost theirs. I can't imagine a world where I can't immediately smell everything around me. It almost sounds nice, because I think that's one of the key inputs to my anxiety cycles, particularly social. It's all just so overwhelming. I often apply scented hand lotions I like and use that in an attempt to form a smell barrier between me and everything else.

On the upside, I'm pretty sure I would immediately notice if my sense of smell went away or even decreased. I'll happily opt for never having Covid, but the idea of not being able to smell anything, just for a while, just to experience what that would be like...it's fascinating.
posted by Godspeed.You!Black.Emperor.Penguin at 10:11 AM on November 28, 2020 [3 favorites]


What is it in "synthetic scents" that people are allergic to?

My last flat in London was a garret above a kebab shop. The stench of meat grease didn't usually make it all the way up (though sometimes did, and the windows on one side had to be closed permanently), though occasionally the proprietor zapped the ground floor with air freshener and it pooled in the air in my flat like a nauseating neon-pink mustard gas.
posted by acb at 10:11 AM on November 28, 2020 [9 favorites]


Yeah I don't know what the specific trigger is in perfumes and air fresheners and scented candles but I have only found a very, very few that don't immediately make my head hurt, potentially to migraine, and my nose to just hurt for hours. And sneezing. Generally lots and lots of sneezing. And my lungs sort of seize up like they do before an asthma attack.
posted by cooker girl at 10:13 AM on November 28, 2020 [11 favorites]


Wow, I was not expecting this level of candle shaming in this thread. Sometimes people just like it to smell like baked cookies without actually having to put in the effort of making cookies, or when it smells like Christmas without actually buying a Christmas tree, or whatever. It doesn't mean they're "hygienically challenged." And it is also completely logical that some people have physical reactions to synthetic scents that could broadly be described as an allergy. I know a lot of migraineurs who can't be around specific smells. Different bodies process things in the environment differently. There's nothing inherently wrong with liking synthetic scents or with not being able to tolerate them.

It is interesting and pretty terrifying that you can just lose your sense of smell. I know someone who got a virus in the nineties and their sense of smell never came back. It's also fascinating that people are complaining about losing their sense of smell to scented candle companies (a luxury good and one that only temporarily alters your environment) when the root of the escalating spread in the United States is directly related to keeping retail establishments like this one open to the public, and in some places not even requiring mask use. We live in a very strange time.
posted by k8lin at 10:14 AM on November 28, 2020 [44 favorites]


.What is the allergic reaction in this case, hives, runny nose, itching, swelling, etc?

In my case, I describe it as my lungs feeling itchy. It doesn't get to the point where it's hard to breath, but it feels "wrong". And then I get a terrible stress headache.

I also find the smell of petrol or Sharpies makes me nauseous, so I may just be generally sensitive too.
posted by stillnocturnal at 10:16 AM on November 28, 2020 [2 favorites]


For the record though I have some Paddywax candles that I think smell amazing and don't bother me at all, although they do seem to have discontinued my favourite scent in the UK (fig and vetiver)
posted by stillnocturnal at 10:18 AM on November 28, 2020


I partially lost my sense of taste about 10 years ago after radiation treatment for cancer. At least for me it wasn't total- I was making some brownies for a picnic, tasted the batter and just thought I screwed it up somehow. My husband tasted it and said they were fine, and then I tried some other stuff and realized what was going on. It was about 2 weeks or so before it started getting better, and I think it's still not 100%- I'm into some stronger flavors than I was before. (OTOH some artificial scents still give me migraines like they did before!)

I could definitely see someone who lives alone not figuring out what has happened until they smell something that they *know* should smell.
posted by damayanti at 10:19 AM on November 28, 2020


> Yeah I don't know what the specific trigger is in perfumes and air fresheners and scented candles but I have only found a very, very few that don't immediately make my head hurt, potentially to migraine, and my nose to just hurt for hours. And sneezing. Generally lots and lots of sneezing. And my lungs sort of seize up like they do before an asthma attack.

This, very much this. Growing up in a semi-churchy family, the perfume bombs at service no doubt contributed to my ever-increasing lack of enthusiasm for all things ecclesiastical. As you said, instant headaches and also an oppressive sense of sensory weight. There is a certain scent profile of some perfumes that really trigger it, too. They just shoot right into your brain like cold lightning.
posted by Godspeed.You!Black.Emperor.Penguin at 10:19 AM on November 28, 2020 [15 favorites]


I don’t know what it is either, but there are definitely some scents that make me immediately sick, too, like a nauseated headache sick. It’s almost always in air fresheners and I notice it in a LOT of cheaper perfumes but not more expensive ones, and not all cheaper perfumes. Mostly floral scents? But not ALL. I don’t really have a problem with essential oils. I don’t actually have a super-sensitive sense of smell, otherwise.
posted by jeweled accumulation at 10:23 AM on November 28, 2020 [5 favorites]


What is it in "synthetic scents" that people are allergic to?

I wish I knew. It isn't all of them: I haven't run into trouble in body wash or tide detergent, but windex add febreze kill me. Some perfumes, the cheaper the worse, but I can be more or less reactive to the same perfume based on a bunch of things. Pretty much any incense or those stick diffusers but only some candles, with some imperfect correlation to price. Also lavender of any type, which is newish, but not other flowers or most essential oils. It would be really convenient if I had a specific list of ingredients. Usually I feel it in my eyes first.
posted by jeather at 10:23 AM on November 28, 2020 [2 favorites]


Seen it too many times today to be able to dismiss it, but I'd like to know more. Is it specific chemicals that trigger an allergy response or is it one of the common chems used to facilitate these scents or what?

There are some dubiously healthy chemicals that get used to enhance fragrance products - synthetic musks, phthalates. Beyond that a lot of them use the same compounds that are in natural scents, but more concentrated. I mean, I’m sure there are people who are sensitive to certain essential oils, too.
posted by atoxyl at 10:29 AM on November 28, 2020 [2 favorites]


> Can you imagine the existential terror of working at a Yankee Candle store or Bath and Body Works and dealing with customers returning candles and lotions because they have no smell? And only making minimum wage with no health benefits?

It probably played out a bit like this scene from Fury Road, which also involves a candle of sorts as well as workers who are being exploited and who do not have health benefits (cw: gun violence, a bit of blood).
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:41 AM on November 28, 2020 [3 favorites]


This has got m thinking of putting a lightly scented candle near my bed. I won't light it, but every morning I'll take a sniff to make sure I can still smell it.
posted by eye of newt at 10:48 AM on November 28, 2020 [3 favorites]


I'm now tempted to go experiment at the make-up-counter and find the ones that make me feel sick, and cross reference the contents.
posted by Iteki at 10:54 AM on November 28, 2020


SoberHighland's posts are kinda freaking me out, that smell ability of the population is "heavily researched" just freaks me out. Research is a good thing but that is just weird.
posted by sammyo at 10:57 AM on November 28, 2020 [2 favorites]


I am so glad I didn't lose my sense of taste after Covid. But a couple friends report Coke tasting terrible after their bouts. It was bad enough when bad pine mute gave me pine mouth about ten years ago, making everything taste like pennies, but after three weeks I had new taste buds again.
posted by St. Oops at 11:02 AM on November 28, 2020 [1 favorite]


"In my case, I describe it as my lungs feeling itchy. It doesn't get to the point where it's hard to breath, but it feels 'wrong.'"

That is me, to a tee. Perfume on an elevator can be a bit of a nightmare. Slightly panic inducing.
posted by bz at 11:04 AM on November 28, 2020 [2 favorites]


pine mute

Sorry, pine nuts.
posted by St. Oops at 11:13 AM on November 28, 2020 [12 favorites]


I'm allergic to a lot of flower pollens and to most mammals. Typically, citrus and vanilla scents are fine, and the Yankee Candle sugar cookie scent is OK (my husband likes to burn one in the kitchen now and again, and it makes me sneeze to sniff the candle but having the scent just in the air doesn't bother me), but anything with sandalwood, leather, or floral scents will probably be a problem. I presume the ingredients originate in stuff I'm allergic to.
posted by joannemerriam at 11:44 AM on November 28, 2020


When I was seven the headaches my father had been getting were revealed to have been caused by a tumor roughly the size of a chicken egg in his brain. The doctors removed the tumor and a portion of brain with it and despite their predictions that the cancer would return and kill him within a year he lived another twenty-eight years.

We had been warned he would likely experience some personality changes as the result of the sudden changes in his neural geography but when he called us immediately after his surgery to request we bring him Spider-Man comics and a TV Guide we knew the doctors were giving us back the same guy we'd entrusted to their care. He did experience some trouble with emotional regulation for a couple years afterward but the most notable change was that he lost his sense of taste and smell before they eventually returned about five years later.

Mostly he didn't mind the loss. He started spicing his food very heavily as it was the only way he could get something approximating taste, but any pleasure he may have lost when his sense of taste departed he was able to replace with the joy he took on family road trips where he would roll down all the car windows and laugh whenever we drove past cattle lots and rendering plants.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 12:25 PM on November 28, 2020 [73 favorites]


So, long before covid, I spent my days testing people's sense of smell. It's a fairly sensitive, though non-specific, feature of premotor Parkinson's disease*, so during my fellowship training, I ran through Smell Identification Tests like no one's business. Most of them are scratch-and-sniff; a few are volatile esters in test tubes. Something like 90% of folks would say "no problems with my sense of smell" and then would score like 2/12 on the SIT. (Those two are control scents that are mediated by a different nerve; if someone scores 0/12, either the card failed quality control or the patient is embellishing.) People almost immediately notice their sense of taste being off -- once my dad, suffering from flu, accused my mom of forgetting how to cook -- but smell is one of those background things that few people pay attention to, even when its gone.

Anyhoo, I was quarantined this spring and some work friends dropped off a care package including a scented candle. It didn't smell like anything to me. I thought either they got a dud candle or I'm going to get PD in 15-20 years. It took several weeks for my sense of smell to return, but now the candle smells properly scenty. This was about a month before the reports about olfactory loss started appearing. It's a fairly well established symptom now, but at the time, everyone was focusing on the triad of fever, cough, shortness of breath.

* There is some debate in the neurology world as to whether we will see another spike in post-infectious parkinsonism, similar to what happened after the 1918 flu pandemic (see also: Awakenings). Our best guess is probably not, since the hyposmia of PD is actually due to a misfolded protein in the olfactory bulb. But we don't totally understand why post-encephalitic parkinsonism happened either, and it may not have had anything to do with flu at all.
posted by basalganglia at 12:40 PM on November 28, 2020 [61 favorites]


I find the worst offenders are the car air fresheners that are usually pine tree shaped - since childhood they've given me nausea up to and including vomiting.

I've had something covid-like last month (basically the only way to get tested for free here is to have a fever AND loss of smell AND shortness of breath AND cough, maybe three of the four if your doctor likes you) and I admit I've upped my consumption of incense and scented candles just to make sure that yes, my sense of smell is still there.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 12:43 PM on November 28, 2020


For me, it's very specifically something in the perfume Charlie. My mother loves this scent, but she only got to really start wearing it once I moved out of the house, and even now she can't wear it if she's going to be around me (which is rare because I haven't lived in the same town as my parents in decades). I don't know what is in there, but man, it's instant sneezing and eyes tearing up.

One of my nightmare scenarios is being on an elevator with a stranger who is wearing Charlie. I have, in the past, gotten off at the wrong floor and waited for another elevator to continue my journey because it's really that bad.
posted by hippybear at 12:47 PM on November 28, 2020 [1 favorite]


that smell ability of the population is "heavily researched" just freaks me out

If it helps, the research sounds like it’s more about “consumer habits and practices,” to use the jargon I’ve heard. Not how well they can smell the candles or anything else — but simply, how often do you burn these candles? For how long do you burn them each time? How many rooms of your house do you burn them in? How many candles do you burn simultaneously per room? That sort of thing.

That kind of data is used for marketing and advertising, but it’s also used to assess safety for consumer products. It’s fascinating research.
posted by snowmentality at 12:53 PM on November 28, 2020 [4 favorites]


It might also have been caused by a non-COVID virus. I lost my sense of smell for two weeks back in 2014 after a particularly nasty cold (yes, even after the congestion had cleared up). COVID isn’t the only virus that can do this; it just appears to be much more common with COVID than with anything else.
that cold may have been caused by one of the previously endemic coronaviruses (even if it wasn't sars-cov-2/covid-19)
Yes, it certainly might have been. I don’t know whether smell loss is common to all coronaviruses. My research at the time didn’t mention any specific kind of virus; consensus was “Yeah, this can happen sometimes after viral illness, though it’s rare. Your sense of smell will probably come back, but it might not.” It was very unnerving.

My “smell test” during that bout of anosmia was to shove my husband’s Old Spice stick deodorant under my nose and inhale deeply. I don’t remember how I first realized I couldn’t smell, but the deodorant became my daily test to check if the sense had returned. (Interestingly, after about a week, it started coming back intermittently. Like I’d be able to smell for 30 minutes, and then it would be gone again. I looked like a deodorant-sniffing weirdo then, because I was checking hourly or more.)

I also kept trying to eat strongly-flavored things to see if I could break through the anosmia. This was not successful. It wasn’t that smells were muted; they were just not there at all. Fish sauce, curry, bacon, vinegar, strong black coffee — nothing. With hot sauce, I could feel a painful capsaicin burn, but still tasted nothing. I read that people with anosmia usually eat a lot less; I found myself eating a lot more, trying desperately to find something I could taste. I imagine if it had lasted much longer, I would have given up and started eating only as necessary to sustain life. Everything was just like differently-textured and differently-temperatured water. Except even worse, because water still has a flavor, and this did not.

I guess if I get COVID-19 anosmia, at least I know what to expect?
posted by snowmentality at 1:36 PM on November 28, 2020 [9 favorites]


Seen it too many times today to be able to dismiss it, but I'd like to know more. Is it specific chemicals that trigger an allergy response or is it one of the common chems used to facilitate these scents or what?

This is on no way scientific, just a guess on my part since I've never seen a doctor about this but...

I believe I have a "sensitivity" if not an actual allergy to petroleum products. There are one or two scents that just make me feel so sick. The same overwhelming sick I feel if I accidentally go near the tire section at a Costco. I believe the scents that make me feel so sick must have a petroleum base. Whatever it is they sell in Tractor Supply stores is my best example of this. I have to dash in and dash out of any Tractor Supply as fast as I can, more than 2 or 3 mins inside, smelling that cloying sweet, whatever it is will give me migraines and have me feeling sick to my stomach.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 1:48 PM on November 28, 2020 [2 favorites]


if you use it regularly, it burns out your ability to smell it, so you keep using more and more of it to keep getting the same hit of scent.

Chasing the scent dragon eh?
posted by RuvaBlue at 1:52 PM on November 28, 2020 [6 favorites]


I had pine mouth and it was extremely weird and lasted a few weeks. I actually had it twice but the first time was very mild, then when it happened again and I truly couldn't taste anything and kept going on and on I realized it was a thing and traced it back to eating pine nuts.

I also have very little sense of smell in the first place - but there was a marked difference when I totally lost my sense of taste.

This stuff is really interesting...
posted by latkes at 2:00 PM on November 28, 2020 [3 favorites]


that smell ability of the population is "heavily researched" just freaks me out.

If it makes it any better, this research is all voluntary. No one is electronically snooping on people's Glade usage.* People get paid in cash and free merchandise to participate in focus groups about how/when, etc. they use smelly Glade products. Most big brands do this all the time. Weirdly enough, some people just love gushing about their use of commercial products to focus groups, and the $75-$100 for a couple hours of their time is just icing on the cake. Research is also done via online questionnaires, but in-person focus groups are still sometimes considered the most accurate way to get this info.

Way before I was in advertising, when I was in college, I signed up for a focus group about shaving. It was painless and free money (I think it was $85). Interestingly, some of the participants get REALLY into it and want to talk to the person conducting the group about intimate details, where some are just there to mumble a few yes and no answers and walk out with the money.

*though I wouldn't doubt today that there's some "smart air fresheners" sending data back to Glade in real time 24/7
posted by SoberHighland at 2:07 PM on November 28, 2020 [8 favorites]


It was bad enough when bad pine mute gave me pine mouth about ten years ago, making everything taste like pennies, but after three weeks I had new taste buds again.

When what did what?

(I know you mean “nuts” and I looked it up - wow, I had no idea!)
posted by atoxyl at 2:52 PM on November 28, 2020 [3 favorites]


> I believe I have a "sensitivity" if not an actual allergy to petroleum products. There are one or two scents that just make me feel so sick.

I wonder if it would help to use organic vapor masks?
posted by sebastienbailard at 4:14 PM on November 28, 2020


Is this why Uber/Lyft drivers feel the need to oversaturate their cars with those little attached to the air vent air fresheners?

Not an Uber driver but often this is to mask even more disagreeable smells: vomit, blood, stale smoke and alcohol. When you are getting paid piece work you might not have time to give your interior a thorough cleaning after an incident.
posted by Mitheral at 4:36 PM on November 28, 2020 [5 favorites]


basalganglia: (Those two are control scents that are mediated by a different nerve

What are the control scents, and what is the nerve? I know you're busy so no worries if you don't have time to answer. I tried looking it up, but the SIT descriptions I found were too high-level.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 4:39 PM on November 28, 2020 [4 favorites]


People get paid in cash and free merchandise to participate in focus groups about how/when, etc. they use smelly Glade products.

Truth. The most I was ever paid for a focus group was for Glade. $500 for 5 hours of talking about scents. It was exhausting but of course I'd do it again!
posted by tiny frying pan at 4:40 PM on November 28, 2020 [2 favorites]


I'm using "allergy" as a shorthand to cover several different types of reactions. It's a mix of classic respiratory allergy (e.g. lilies), various migraine triggers, and various other chemicals that make my eyes tear up, make my asthma trigger, and/or make my nasal passages clog up.

I did once ask my allergist at the time if there was a way to identify the specific chemical(s) making me react to perfumes, air fresheners, candles, etc. and her reaction was to roll her eyes and tell me the chemicals involved were bad for everyone, not just me. Not sure what to make of that.

I'd estimate I only have a physiological reaction to roughly half the products like this that are out there, but honestly, that's enough that I avoid the hell out of all of it, because smelling something different really has no upside for me if there's a 50-50 shot at a migraine or asthma attack. (Charlie perfume is a big one for me as well, along with Axe body spray.) I'm fine with most other chemicals, though. No issues with fuel, Sharpies, etc. Although that could be partially dose-driven. Being in an elevator with someone wearing heavy perfume is a much worse situation than briefly using a Sharpie.
posted by pie ninja at 5:10 PM on November 28, 2020 [1 favorite]


What are the control scents, and what is the nerve?

I don't have the booklets with me, but noxious smells go through the trigeminal, not the olfactory nerve.
posted by basalganglia at 5:36 PM on November 28, 2020 [4 favorites]


If I recall, something like rubbing alcohol is mediated by trigeminal/5 and ergo bad for testing cranial nerve I (olfactory).

I was actually in a covid-exposure study while I was working on the covid unit, and they had us smell two household substances every day - one was a category of nut butter or jam if you have allergies, and and alcohol or nailpolish remover. I didn't even put it together until this reminded me - it must have been for that reason.
posted by cobaltnine at 6:32 PM on November 28, 2020 [12 favorites]


Another reason people might use scents is because they live with a teenager. It can be a very smelly time in one's life and even after showers, funk can linger. I am very grateful for my Febreeze.

Otherwise I almost never use scenty things, they are too strong.

My ex has almost no sense of smell and I don't think he knows that his current apartment has a mysterious, lingering smell of pickles that I suspect has something to do with low rent, so that's worked out for him. (He does not eat pickles)
posted by emjaybee at 6:34 PM on November 28, 2020 [2 favorites]


I work as a contact tracer in the UK at the moment, and a couple of days ago I called a Morher of a girl who discovered that she had covid because the mother insisted that the baby has a full nappy and the older girl kept saying he didn’t.

They must have been a science minded family, because the mother then got the girl to taste stuff, and the girl kept insisting she could taste it until the mother made her try with her eyes closed. At that point she grudgingly admitted defeat. (And, I’m pleased to say, got a test and the whole family are now staying home, hooray!)
posted by fizban at 11:41 PM on November 28, 2020 [23 favorites]


I got pine mouth after eating the mixture while I was making panforte, and the earwax taste started to kick in just as we sat down to the Christmas lunch I’d spent two days cooking. So that was fun.
posted by Bloxworth Snout at 2:24 AM on November 29, 2020 [6 favorites]


I did once ask my allergist at the time if there was a way to identify the specific chemical(s) making me react to perfumes, air fresheners, candles, etc. and her reaction was to roll her eyes and tell me the chemicals involved were bad for everyone, not just me. Not sure what to make of that.

Yeah. Maybe it's not so much that some people are especially sensitive to these things, as that they are poisonous to everyone but the product designers work out a dosage low enough for most people to be resistant to the immediate effects of the poison.

At the start of the year, when the smoke from the bushfires was getting really bad, I read a lot about the effects of fine particles of smoke on the human body, especially in children. I don't use candles anymore.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 5:48 PM on November 29, 2020 [2 favorites]


In my first semester of college I amazed my roommate when he opened the door one day holding a metal 9x9" pan covered in foil, which his mother had brought him, and I said "brownies with walnuts." He was 20 feet away.
The brownies weren't fresh out of the oven; she lived five hours away.

My sense of smell isn't what it was, but it's still enough that I immediately got a headache one day when a co-worker opened a container of Goo Gone on the other side of the office.

Someone in the department has frequent (and frequently terrible) gas. Covid-19 has sucked for almost everything, but having to wear a mask has been kind of nice.
posted by johnofjack at 2:47 PM on November 30, 2020 [1 favorite]


Hey! Hi, I am the original person who wondered about Yankee Candles and loss of scent, and then looked at the one star reviews on the Yankee Candles website. I made a flip comment about it and went to bed, and the thing went viral by morning. It's been a weird week.

This is by far the best conversation I've seen about the whole thing, everybody. I'm totally fascinated by the scent product studies. I've watched my mother drink cups of hazel-nut coffee creamer with a couple of teaspoons of coffee and been amazed, and it's interesting to find out that she's not the only one who does that!
posted by terridrawsstuff at 9:51 AM on December 2, 2020 [24 favorites]


Oh also: I get migraines instantly with certain smells too. I stopped somebody from bullying people about synthetic smell sensitivity in my twitter-stream but wanted very badly to find the science behind why some perfumes and esters cause headaches and vomiting, and found very little. The Canada Lung Association websites did talk about various chemicals used in perfumes, and mentioned "diethyl phthalate, which is used to make scents last longer. It can cause allergic skin reactions (contact dermatitis) and is classified as a skin sensitizer and a reproductive toxin, according to HAZ-Map: Occupational Exposure of Hazardous Substances of the National Library of Medicine of the United States."
posted by terridrawsstuff at 10:01 AM on December 2, 2020 [4 favorites]


Welcome aboard, terridrawsstuff!
posted by sebastienbailard at 10:07 AM on December 2, 2020


Apparently candles can be a source of indoor pollution: volatile and semi-volatile organic compounds (VOC, SVOC) and particulate matter, but I haven't skimmed the research articles enough to say how meaningful it is.

google scholar search
posted by sebastienbailard at 10:18 AM on December 2, 2020 [2 favorites]


Can you imagine the existential terror of working at a %Retail store and dealing with customers Yes. Yes, I can. I have done a fair bit of retail, have a retail temp phone right now, and people are mostly okay but some of them are just jerks. And retail jobs require more & more work, for less and less pay/ benefits/ autonomy. This Brave New World is not nice, not decent to people. People with money & power just accrue more, people without get squashed more.

Burning stuff indoors makes air pollution, even soy candles. Many scented products aggravate asthma.
posted by theora55 at 2:11 PM on December 2, 2020


Yeah, not sure what it is exactly, but heavily artificial scents trigger asthma and sometimes migraine problems for me. Tight lungs and throat, like trying to breathe through a straw while being squeezed. Itchy eyes, sometimes irritated cheeks. Frequently a snot fountain. Often amazingly frequent sneezing that I can not stop. Ever coughed so hard things tore? It's not fun to do that from sneezing.

Cigarettes, anything from a wall mounted sprayer, febreeze, cheap perfumes, some candles are really risky. I can often identify when my girlfriend had lit a candle from the allergies reactions even before I consciously smell it.
posted by Jacen at 8:50 PM on December 2, 2020


> I had flu-like symptoms (fever & chills) around the time that COVID arrived in my area. Within a week of that I had lost my sense of smell completely, and it didn't recover for some months. On recovering, everything smelled very *strange* and terrible. I've been doing 'smell training' to try to get things normalized.

> This sounds like "parosmia."

Damaged Sense of Smell in Covid Patients Holds Clues to How Recovery Might Work [ungated link] - "Researchers study neurological reasons why some coronavirus patients often find familiar scents repulsive."
Doritos smelled rancid. Iced coffee’s odor made her gag. She said it smelled “like someone left uncooked chicken under a couch cushion for a few weeks.”

These days, Ms. Glynn is eating mostly English muffins, raw carrots and oranges, but says, little by little, the proper smells are returning. She sniffs essential oils as part of a regimen to remind herself what normal scents are like. She’s hopeful her sense of smell will return as before.

...researchers from universities in the U.S., U.K. and Germany, led by Harvard University, published a series of studies in animals that indicated the ACE-2 receptor, the key protein through which the coronavirus enters the body, isn’t present in olfactory sensory neurons.

Their experiments involving mice showed it is more likely that the virus damages so-called sustentacular cells, the support cells in the nasal cavity that allow the smell-detecting neurons to function. When these support cells are infected, the body generates inflammation to try to isolate and fight off the virus.

If support-cell damage is minimal, a patient typically recovers their sense of smell quickly. But if enough sustentacular cells are damaged, or if there is enough inflammation, the neurons can also be killed or altered in function, leading to long-term loss of smell and parosmia.

“The big question is, does the coronavirus directly attack and kill neurons?” said Dr. Sandeep R. Datta, a neurobiologist at Harvard and lead author of two of the studies from the summer. “The widespread appearance of parosmia reflects the fact that in some patients, neurons are definitely dying. And the leading idea is that these neurons are being killed through an indirect mechanism.”

The good news about parosmia is that its occurrence indicates the sense of smell is gradually returning to normal and the body is repairing nerve damage caused by the virus.

Damaged or killed-off olfactory neurons can regenerate and reestablish a sense of smell via tendril-like transmitters called axons, which connect with the brain through microscopic openings in the part of the skull called the cribriform plate.

Scientists believe parosmia is the result of the trial-and-error process initiated when new olfactory neurons sprout up and reconnect to the brain, where smells are processed and interpreted. Complicating the process is that there are about 350 types of receptors related to detecting odors, and the human brain interprets smells as combinations of different signals.

“If this pattern of signals is not complete, the message the brain gets is not going to be interpretable,” said Dr. Nancy Rawson, a molecular biologist at the Monell Institute in Philadelphia, which studies the sense of smell. “It’s going to revert to some sort of a default perception. And it appears that the default perceptions are generally negative ones.”

“If you think of it in evolutionary terms,” she said, “if you have impaired sense of smell, it’s safer to err on the side of something smelling dangerous.”

The research focus now has shifted to understanding why parosmia is so common in Covid-19 patients.

Earlier this fall, scientists researching smell disruptions in cells of both mice and humans found further indications that smell loss is caused by the virus damaging support cells and by the body’s inflammatory response.

That finding “suggests that managing inflammation related to Covid infection could be a very important avenue to recovery,” Dr. Datta said. It also bolsters research that indicates the coronavirus itself doesn’t invade the brain, he said.
also btw...
-Use of Google Trends to investigate loss-of-smell-related searches during the COVID-19 outbreak
-Tracking COVID-19 using taste and smell loss Google searches is not a reliable strategy [/em added]

oh and indirectly related...
tl;dr: "Years prior to diagnosis, it is possible to detect early signs of Alzheimer's disease in missed credit card payments and worsening credit scores."
Financial Presentation of Alzheimer Disease and Related Dementias - "This cohort study examines the financial presentation of Alzheimer disease and related dementia using administrative credit data."
posted by kliuless at 10:10 PM on December 3, 2020 [1 favorite]


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