Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Zicam, olfaction and anosmia

The recent news about the FDA warning about the over-the-counter cold medication Zicam and its alleged danger to our sense of smell prompted some newscasters to wonder, or at least imply, so what if a person loses their sense of smell? Some even implied that losing one's sense of smell would be a good thing!

Oh my.

Although our reliance on vision and hearing is obvious--and impairments to either or both of those senses seem to jump out at us as major disabilities--not many of us realize that the loss of the sense of smell can be life-threatening!

Oh come on . . . really?

Well, OK, maybe not immediately life-threatening. Or even necessarily life-threatening. But according to Dr. Rachel Herz, a leading olfactory researcher, loss of the sense of smell is far more likely to cause despondence and even clinical depression than the loss of any other sense. And severe, untreated depression can lead to life-threatening problems (including suicide).

In Herz's book The Scent of Desire: Discovering our Enigmatic Sense of Smell she describes the profound effects that anosmia (olfactory failure) can have on a person's sense of self and sense of the world they live in. It can even affect our feelings toward loved ones! Yikes.

At the A&P Professor website, I have a more thorough review of Herz's fascinating book (including a list of a few useful facts that you can use in your A&P course).

In the book, she noted the possible link between the use of zinc-containing cold remedies and damage to sensory function. So I was not at all surprised to hear the news about Zicam.

This topic could be an interesting way to start a discussion on how our senses affect our lives. Or a discussion of the central roles of the often overlooked sense of olfaction. And also on how science works (e.g., do we really know whether Zicam is safe or not? How? How much data is enough data? What rate of damage is enough to be considered unsafe?)

Want to know more? Check these out:

Warnings on Three Zicam Intranasal Zinc Products
FDA website June 16, 2009
[The official FDA warnings]

FDA: Some Zicam Cold Remedies Are Risky
Miranda Hitti
WebMD Health News Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD June 16, 2009
[News alert on the FDA warning; gives additional background]

The Scent of Desire: Discovering our Enigmatic Sense of Smell
Rachel Herz
William Morrow (hard, 2007) Harper Perennial (soft, 2008)
[Excellent book on olfaction; aimed at lay audience, but full of scientific information]

The Scent of Desire
Kevin Patton
The A&P Professor website
[Review of Rachel Herz's book includes YouTube videos, useful facts from the book, and more.]

Here are some related videos:

Associated Press report

Zicam's response

[The video player embedded here may not appear in your news feed or emailed newsletter. Go to The A&P Professor blog to access the video viewer. Go to The A&P Professor website to learn how to embed the video in your PowerPoint or webpage . . . or simply link to it from your own email or webpage.]

You can use the FREE public-domain image of Jan Miense Molenaar's painting Smell (1637, oil on panel) in your course! Click here to access the image.

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