Listener mail: Scent options for those stinky tasks

2019 06 scent options.JPG

I recently received this email from Mike who poses a really great question. Sometimes in our work, we smell some things that would curl most people’s hair. We don’t get to opt out of providing care just because the smell in the room makes us dry heave a little (or a lot).

Our options for clearing the air of these odors are limited. For example, we can’t be spraying air freshener in an operating room, or in the room of a patient with respiratory illness, Other odors are persistent and powerful (hello gangrene, necrotizing faciitis, etc).

So what’s a nurse to do? Well, I’ve got a few options for you. Not all of these work for all people, and some smells just can not be masked no matter what we do or what products we use. This list contains things that I have done, or would consider doing (use your critical thinking to determine with are appropriate for you, your patient and your environment).

Some General Rules
1. The best options are contained/individual.

I once worked with a nurse who sprayed her own personal air freshener all over the unit. That shit stunk and it lingered for hours. Eventually enough people complained and they made a rule banning all fragrance or air fresheners that were'n’t issued by the hospital. The worst part is that many of us felt the hospital issued odor solutions smelled like chemicals and were worse, or had no scent and therefore did nothing to make it better.

2. Be aware of the risks odor solutions pose for patients.

A patient who is admitted periodically to a unit for respiratory issues requests a sign be put on the door that says “No fragrances or chemicals please”. When a staff member with perfume enters the room, it can trigger a coughing fit that is hard to stop and makes breathing difficult for them.

This is just one example of why caution it’s paramount for your patient’s safety. Know their medical history, ask them before you use something with a powerful odor, like a sanitizing wipe on the table in front of them.

3. Sometimes neutralizing is better than overpowering.

In end of life care, we sometimes use a (concealed) contained or unscented cat litter or charcoal to help absorb odors from things like wounds. In some cases, the odor is so strong, if you just use a fragrance to mask it, often times it only makes the room smell like necrotic tissue covered in lavender. Find out what your institutions policy is on odor neutralization.

You can find more information on this from the Fast Facts collection from The Palliative Care Network of Wisconsin.

Bansari Patel APN and Deon Cox-Hayley DO


The part I’m most excited about….

Talking about how I cope with schtinky schituations aka fragrances that don’t affect other people. I’m including a couple items I haven’t tried yet, but that look….uh, interesting.

In no particular order, her are some ways you can get to work with less olfactory offense.

Aromatherapy Lip Balm.

Your lips are right under your nose, so how could it not block some of the ick from getting by.

This stress relief balm from Bath and Body Works is my favorite scent combo, eucalyptus spearmint.
This is just one example that I really like. Put it on your lips and then put a face mask over it to intensify the aroma.

Bath and Body Works Eucalyptus Spearmint Lip Balm - Aromatherapy Stress Relief Lip Treatment Stick - Pack of 2

Fashion and Fragrant Function

This lovely little lava stone necklace is a less intense option, and is cute in a minimalist way. A few drops of essential oil should keep the fragrance between you and the odoriferous task. Caution for those of you who work in environments where patients may try to grab a necklace.

Calm Lava Stone Diffuser Necklace, 18" Italian Silver Box Chain All-Natural Organic Lava Rock Pendant for Essential Oils, Meditation, Yoga

You Shall Not Pass (Into My Nose)!

Ok, ok, so this item made me laugh - first at how ridiculous is it, then at how genius it is. This wearable diffuser very simple clips onto the septum of your nose, delivering the scent, ahem, right up the nostrils. This, my friends is for those intense situations and definitely is to be worn under a mask. This would look ridiculous, and I wouldn’t want it falling out in the middle of a wound dressing change. Be sure to pick a scent you like because whatever scent you put on the little diffuser sponges is all you’re going to smell for awhile.

Wearable Essential Oil Diffuser by Foojin

With Just a Flick of the Wrist

Moving further from the face again, we have this sweet little aromatherapy bracelet for those nurses who don’t have to don sterile gloves or put their hands near patient’s faces. My imagination took me to a urology outpatient clinic nurse, who works in a mostly odor-free environment except for those inevitable urostomy smells. Pass your wrist in front of your face and be taken to happy land by your favorite floral.

Aromatherapy Essential Oils Gift Set, Diffuser Bracelet w/Top 4 100% Pure Natural Essential Oils (Tea Tree, Lemongrass, Orange and Peppermint, 10ML/pcs), Perfect Gift for Women

No, really…

Guys, I don’t know if this item is BS, or what, but it exists and claims it can help with odors and allergens around you. It IS 2019 so maybe this is legit. But I’m skeptical. If someone buys this and tests it out, we can talk about it on the show.

Woolala Personal Wearable Air Purifier Necklace/Mini Portable Air Freshner Ionizer/Negative Ion Generator/Low Noise for Adults Kids - Silver

Gag Gift or Anti-Gag Gas Solution?

Let’s get really real now. There are some hospital odors that are so rank, so offensive, that you’d really do anything to make the assault on your nose stop. That includes wearing this. It’s listed as a gag gift, and I feel like it resembles a jock strap for your face, but it is a thick barrier between you and the Nasty after all. I’d probably spray it with something nice and wear it under my mask for a short time. Long term, this might be a bit suffocating.

What the Smell: Wearable Odor Filter (1 Carbon Unit) - Great Gag Gift, April Fool's

One You Can Tell Your Mom About

And last but not least, a normal-ish one. Naturally, someone invented scented face masks. If you work somewhere that has a potential for a stinkfest once in awhile, a box of these in your locker might be a worthwhile professional investment. If you’re around the funk all the time, this may be a pricey option to keep in stock. Maybe look into a more sustainable method. You know, like the septum clip.

S3090L Cranberry Series S3090 Mint Scented Earloop Face Mask, Lavender (Pack of 50)

While there’s a fair amount of ridiculousness on this list, I think some of these items and tips can be helpful when used in conjunction with each other. While we may joke about all the gross smells the human body can make, let us take a second to remember our empathy.

As nurses, we protect human dignity, and we know that no patient wants to smell bad. Don’t talk offensively about patients where they, their family, or other staff can hear. In fact, save if for the blogs where we talk in innocent generalities about the gross things all our bodies do.

What can you do instead of just slap on some minty chapstick and a scented mask? Help your patient to smell better if they are unable to do these things for themselves. Empty drainage bags, bathe dependent patients, help them with oral care, and use appropriate environmental measures to control odors in the room. Encourage ambulatory patients to do self-care and provide them with the supplies they need.

Use your Golden Rule folks. If you’d want your teeth brushed, help your patient out. If their colostomy bag is past it’s prime, change that thing out. for a fresh one.

Got any other suggestions?
That’s all I’ve got.
Smell ya later!



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