Stinky Runner Cannot Smell (Likely Caused by Nasal Polyps)

One of the joys of being a runner, as well as in charge of my community’s annual 5K & Hot Dog Mile, is to see people of all ages and body types joining together to get healthy and support a cause.

This tranquility of enjoying the great outdoors can be disrupted by runners who do NOT wash their running gear and WHOA – cause people to keep their distance! We always have one such runner at our 5K. Every year. I have determined that our runner did not KNOW his clothes stunk, because his sense of smell is gone. And nobody had told him.

Why don’t people know that their clothes reek?  We lose our sense of smell when our bodies are fighting allergies, infections or having a cold. When we completely lose our sense of smell, it is called ANOSMIA. This often causes the inability to taste foods as well.

One major cause of anosmia is having the condition known as nasal polyps. These are noncancerous growths in the nose and sinuses that block the nasal passages.  They tend to result from acute type 2 inflammation in patients with chronic rhinosinusitis.

Who Tends to get Nasal Polyps?
  • 2-4% of the population has nasal polyps (Avdeeva 2018) and 12% of adults have chronic rhinosinusitis (just about all anosmia patients have chronic rhinosinusitis).

  • If you had eczema as a child, you are predisposed to getting other type 2 allergic diseases (Bachert 2017), such as asthma, chronic sinusitis and nasal polyps. In fact, there is more than a 20% chance you will get nasal polyps if you have atopic dermatitis.

What are the Comorbidities of Nasal Polyps and Chronic Sinusitis?
  • Having moderate to severe atopic dermatitis (eczema) as a kid – or still have it as an adult.

  • Asthma. Up to half of patients with nasal polyps also develop asthma.(Philpot)

If a person develops either moderate to severe eczema, asthma, or chronic sinusitis, they have an over 50% chance of developing all three conditions. This is called the “Atopic March”. It starts with childhood eczema, then on to asthma, then chronic sinusitis. The development of nasal polyps comes as a downstream (pardon my pun) effect from sinusitis. (Philpot 2018)


  • About 10 – 15% of people with nasal polyps have aspirin sensitivity. (Philpot 2018)

  • 90% of people with nasal polyps have an altered sense of taste or smell. (Bohman 2018)

  • Nasal polyps are soft, painless, noncancerous growths on the lining of nasal passages (or sinuses). They hang down akin to teardrops. They result from chronic inflammation due to asthma, recurring infection, allergies, drug sensitivity or immune disorders.

  • Large groups of nasal polyps can block nasal passages and possibly lead to breathing problems, loss of smell and frequent infections. They are more common in adults.

  • The nose’s olfactory cells are high up inside the nose. Blockage or damage to the nerve cells can lead to loss of smell

  • Cold, allergy, sinus infection or poor air quality can cause anosmia, as can nasal polyps.

  • After around age 60, our sense of smell diminishes, whether we have chronic rhinosinusitis and/or nasal polyps, or not.

  • Certain drugs, including antibiotics, antidepressants, heart medications and cocaine can cause anosmia.

Anosmia can be either temporary (i.e., from seasonal allergy or cold) or permanent. Having a cold is the most common cause for a temporary loss of smell. Obstructions such as a bone deformity (i.e., deviated septum), tumor or nasal polyps are the likely cause for permanent anosmia. Surgery and/or medications can improve the condition.

Now I know the likely reason why this runner’s clothes used to stink, and hopefully he does too!

Kevin Fitzpatrick, MBA, has created over 500 evidence-based health applications, ran three marathons, scores of 5K’s and is Race Director for the Officer Silvera Rotary Run & Hot Dog Mile, in Lino Lakes, Minnesota. 

Copyright © 2013 - 2019 Fitzpatrick Translational Science | All Rights Reserved