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This Man’s Smell Hallucinations Can Predict the Weather

For one man Parkinson's hallucinations were both horrible and predictive - he smelled an intense skunky oniony smell that got worse when a storm was coming

Skunk is one of the smells this poor man thinks he’s smelling. Image: cogdogblog

Along with the tremors, stiff muscles and difficulty walking, about a third of Parkinson’s patients experience hallucinations. And for one patient, those hallucinations were both horrible and predictive. He smelled an intense, skunk-like, oniony smell that got worse when a storm was coming. According to the International Journal of Biometeorology, he is thefirst reported case of weather-induced exacerbation of phantosmia.”

The case study says that the patient, a 64-year-old white male with Parkinson’s, these phantom smells would suddenly intensify two to three hours before a storm and last until it has passed. This also isn’t the first time, the patient has been a weather predictor. “Twenty years prior, he reported the ability to forecast the weather, based on pain in a torn meniscus, which vanished after surgical repair,” the researchers report.

Storms weren’t the only thing that triggered the patient’s terrible smell hallucinations; they could also be summoned via “coughing, nasal congestion, and tiredness.” They could be banished by eating—which has caused the patient to gain weight—and also by “watching TV, nasal irrigation … occluding the nostrils … snorting salt water, blowing of the nose, laughing … humming and talking.”

Now, the doctors didn’t actually test the patient’s weather prediction accuracy. Which means that he could simply be misattributing his smelly signals. Christian Jarrett at Research Digest suggests:

Just as we tend to remember all those times that we received a phone call from a friend or relative just when we were thinking of them – but none of the more numerous times when we weren’t – perhaps this patient’s purported forecasting ability is a trick of memory. This explanation is supported by the fact that twenty years earlier the patient claimed to predict the weather based on worsening of pain in a torn cartilage. This history may have led him to expect other sensory experiences to be weather-related and to seek out meteorological associations with his phantom smells that may not be real.

So the Weather Channel will probably not be hiring this man to predict storms any time soon. The doctors say that their patient is probably not a magical weather predictor, but rather an interesting case of how environmental factors like air pressure could trigger pathways in the brain and cause these kinds of feelings and hallucinations. With that understanding, perhaps they can rid this poor man from his smelly hallucinations.

More from Smithsonian.com:

A Few Rare People Hallucinate Musical Scores
Smell Hallucinations Exist Too, and Could Be a Sign of Health Problems

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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