Answering The Man Who Said He Could Smell His Triggers

The following story submission is in response to John Bottrell's article, "Does Asthma Increase Your Sense of Smell?"

If you walk into a building and don't smell your triggers I think it's as simple as that building just doesn't have anything to bother you. I bought a new house years ago and it had a nice new smell that didn't bother me in any way. But it wasn't long before I was smelling a musty smell that made my asthma worse. It was more in the kitchen off the garage but not so much when I came in the front door.

Now 25 years later I am still bothered by it. My husband doesn't notice it. We've removed carpet in the bedroom and living area and air cleaners were not strong enough. I've used air fresheners and tried to have ducts cleaned but the ceiling is too high, nobody else smells what I do and I put it down to 'sensitivity' as opposed to allergy.

Smelling my asthma triggers at home

We went house hunting at some point in secondhand houses and some were clean smelling while others drove me crazy (knew it had to be dust mites and old dust maybe under the beds and cabinets) and I had to get out. Doctors' offices too - they put in new carpet and they shouldn't or they are so old they need to repainted or something, but then the paint would be a bother to me. So many things can set me off, just like in John's article (but I can't specifically ID where a smell comes from).

An allergist told me I was badly allergic to dust mites, dust and moulds (outdoor I think), and oak trees especially. So I hired a cleaning lady to no avail. We may not have so many dust mites and I don't smell dust, as she cleans every 2 weeks and all the oak trees surrounding our house don't seem to bother me outside, but that could be the musty smell the A/C is pulling into the house through the garage. I went on allergy shots for 5 years, again to no avail. It made not the slightest bit of difference to anything so I stopped, and I figure those triggers are causing sensitivities and not true allergies where I'd be breaking out or not able to breathe or something serious.

Identifying asthma triggers by smell

What may make your situation different, in that you really can detect individual smells, might be if you can identify a smell when you are living with it. For example, when I go out of the house to go to a restaurant or shopping or just driving in the car so I'm gone for a few hours and my nose has readjusted, then I come home, THAT is when I notice the awful air in the house. But when I'm home all the time and living in it, the air could be as fresh as outdoors because I don't smell anything really bad. It only happens when there is a comparison with good air or outdoors. And that is sort of what you are experiencing when you go into another house or the basement or another room.

But I just had a thought - my breathing is not as deep as it normally would be due to COPD so I'm surface breathing, if you know what I mean, and I probably would smell bad air all the time if I could breathe more deeply. And that is a scary thought. Right now my husband is cleaning out our garage and washing the floor and I've asked him to use Clorox on it to really freshen it and get rid of stuff laying around so I can see if the smell is really coming from the garage air.

Learning how to identify my asthma triggers by smell

I relate to everything you refer to but likely it's the sensitivity that hits you first so you just know it's got dust mites or mould or something there. If you really could ID each smell I'd love it if you came to my house to ID my awful smell problem. I even had the same exact problem at my old house! Musty smell all the time and when I sold it I went back to visit the lady who bought it and it was wonderful - all clean and fresh. She'd removed the carpets and put in tile. My husband tells people that I have a strong sense of smell - bacon cooking, meat on the BBQ, strong chemical smells of cleaning supplies, the new washing machine horrible smell detergent all bother me, yet he can't smell any of it. He thinks I'm crazy.

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