A-Z of Clinical Odours. (Part Two: N-Z).

Posted on February 27, 2009. Filed under: Benign |


Welcome to the second part of my non- exhaustive encyclopedia of Clinical Odours.

N: Nitrous Oxide: Laughing gas. A distinct smell usually tainted by the smell of the rubber mask through which it is inhaled.  Often associated with dislocated bones. (See R: Rugby player).

O: Oxygen/Fresh Air: The general populous may believe that Oxygen does in fact NOT smell, bit if you’ve be stuck in a room full of sweaty trauma nurses mopping up Malaena and then step out into the cold night air the purity of oxygen hits you. 

P: Perfume:  You may think that the smell of perfume is always a good thing, not so.  Haven’t you ever had the urge to say…”Nice perfume, but did you haveto marinade in it?”  I don’t believe you have to spend an absolute fortune on cologne, but I think it should be easy to tell the difference between Eau De Toilet and Odour Toilet.

Q: Quite Unexpected: Some smells you really are not prepared for. The best example I can give was from a patient who set light to himself in the emergency room waiting area.  I suppose if I’d put thought into it I could have predicted the odour, but I just wasn’t expecting it…I was at the other side of the department and couldn’t see what was going on. All I knew was that the fire alarm and emergency buzzers were both ringing, and that I could smell something quite unexpected for an Emergency Department…Honey smoked Bacon!!!

R: Rugby Players: A not strictly unpleasant odour of fresh mud, fresh blood and a tinge of sweat.

S: Sinusitis: A malingering smell of stagnant and stale blood stained snot.  Distinct and definitely unpleasant.  The only bonus is that if you have sinusitis you can’t smell anything else.

T: Terminal Illness: It has to be quite advanced, and I couldn’t describe it, but you can smell it.

Tobacco:Amazingly heavy smokers don’t seem to realise that it smells, in fact they seem positively surprised when you spontaneously ask how much they smoke.  “How DID you know??”  (apart from the smell? The stained fingers and teeth and prune like facial wrinkles give it away).

Tonsillitis:Not dissimilar to sinusitis in quality, but distinct and gives you one of the few occasions to diagnose the cause of a sore throat before you even look inside.

U: Urine: Sometimes it has a faint smell, other times it smells strongly particularly if rife with Nitrites, sweetened by Ketones, or following a meal with asparagus!  Most distinctly when mixed with stale alcohol and soaked onto a pair of dirty trousers.

Ulcers: See Exudate.

V: Vomit: Essentially an acidic smell which can be uniquely combined with stomach content to produce such smell as : Special Brew Vomit, Curry/kebab and Special Brew vomit, Breast Milk vomit (strangely more acceptable than the previous two!) and many more…

W: Washed: Similar to the smell of fresh air.  The smell that the early shift unknowingly fill the emergency department with that only the stale night shift staff can smell. It’s the smell of reinforcements and comparable to the sun soaked fresh spring air after a long hard winter! It’s the smell that tells the night shift it’s nearly time to go home, have Southern Comfort on their porridge and drift off to sleep!

X: x : The unknown quantity. Allowing for the fact that pretty much any of the smells listed can be combined with any number of the other smells listed and create it’s own unique distinctive odour or malodour!

XXX: The smell of condoms, semen, vaginal secretions and sex workers!

Y: YUK!!! See most of the above!

Z:Zzzzzz:The noise of an unconscious first year student nurse after having their first experience with a strong clinical malodour and passing out! 

So there you have it!!  Please add you own and enjoy!!

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3 Responses to “A-Z of Clinical Odours. (Part Two: N-Z).”

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when I first started in nursing, one of the more experience auxilaries told me that terminal illness and death smell like potato peelings, and I still think she’s right!what does anyone else think?

Trivia: did you know that not all people can smell the chemical in urine after a person eats asparagus? You have to have a special gene to smell that chemical in the urine.

Well thanks for that one!! Apparently it’s the same for ketones in urine (and tongue rolling)


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