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Post-Surgery Garbage Odor: Why Does Getting Well Smell So Bad?


In the days following surgery, life doesn’t always come up smelling like roses. Instead, it can come up smelling like garbage. Yep, one of the more common side effects of a procedure performed on the nose or sinuses is an altered sense of smell. This can leave patients impatient and wanting to dive nose first into a flower garden.

Many people experience this – they talk of smelling trash, mildew, or as if a wet dog has shrunken down and crawled into their nostrils. The intensity of this varies; some people experience a fleeting and minor smell and some experience one that overwhelms.

The length of time also changes from person to person. Often, the smell begins to go away as the nose heals – it lessens by week. However, sometimes it can last for a month or more after surgery.

Why does this happen? Why does getting well smell so darn bad?

The healing process

While there are many different procedures that can be performed on the nose and sinuses, the stages of healing following surgery are very similar. Some post-operative symptoms may be due to the effect of anesthesia used during the operation; others are due to the expected swelling and irritation inside your nose from the surgery itself.

In most cases, your surgeon will have placed temporary nasal packing inside your nose to support the newly opened sinus passages and to absorb excess fluid while your tissues heal. Dissolvable nasal packing can help your sinuses heal faster after surgery. The packing is gradually absorbed by your body within a few weeks.

Per Dr. Stephen Chandler, “The following photos are endoscopic pictures from the OR screen of what the packing looks like before and after placement; it’s absorbable, so degradation occurs at a rate commensurate with patient compliance. The odor is a consequence of devitalized tissue (from surgery) and foreign body material that’s colonized; we often impregnate the packing with antibiotics to minimize the badness. The first image is before endoscopic insertion; the second is a dissolvable pack placed lateral to the middle turbinate, approximating the surgical ethmoids and maxillary sinus cavities.”

Due to swelling, dry blood, mucus, temporary packing, and crusting in your nose, you may have symptoms like an upper respiratory infection, and – yes – an unpleasant odor. To help your nose and sinuses recover and return to normal, your doctor will likely recommend sinonasal irrigation. After some sinus procedures, it is also common to prescribe antibiotic and steroid medications that can be added to the saline irrigation. Fortunately, these symptoms don’t last very long and are dramatically improved by following your post-operative instructions.

There you have it: sinus surgery might come with an unwanted (but temporary) side-effect. It takes patience for each nasal passage to get back on track, but it will in time: the nose naturally “nose” how to.

ResQRinse is a new nasal rinsing system that uses choanal occlusion, a process that eliminates the negative side effects of other devices. ResQRinse helps manage the unwanted side effects from surgery by delivering saline rinse directly through the nasal cavity. To learn more about the wonders it can do for your nose, please check out these informative videos.