Weak stomach? Follow these hacks to overcome strong hospital odors

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5 smart hacks to help nurses overcome strong hospital odors

For many people, their time spent in hospitals is limited to the occasional trip to the emergency room or short visits with family or friends. During that time, it's possible to catch a whiff of a few unique smells here or there.

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However, for nurses, the smells of a hospital are a huge part of their day-to-day experience. "I was never hospitalized or anything, so nursing school was the first time I was exposed to the hospital setting. The smells are pungent, especially if you're not familiar with them," said Yoldine Valery, a local nurse. "Sometimes I leave work and bring the smells home with me."

Working in the ICU, Valery sees her share of patients in critical condition. Over time, Valery has even picked up on certain smells that come along with each one.

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Certain ailments can be detected by the smell of a patient's skin, breath or excretions.

Credit: AJC.com

Certain ailments can be detected by the smell of a patient's skin, breath or excretions.

Credit: AJC.com

Combined ShapeCaption
Certain ailments can be detected by the smell of a patient's skin, breath or excretions.

Credit: AJC.com

Credit: AJC.com

So what does a hospital really smell like? Well, it's definitely not all citrus hand sanitizer and flowers. Cleaning agents, medical supplies and different health issues all come with their own unique scents.

Here's a rundown of a few of the strongest odors that Valery deals with:

  1. Human excretions – Human excretions, especially when infected with different forms of bacteria, can carry a scent that can point toward certain conditions.
  2. GI bleed – Gastrointestinal bleeding can happen in the presence of issues like ulcers or tumors. The smell has been ranked among the worst in any hospital.
  3. Human flesh – The smell of flesh when exposed to bacteria or during certain surgical procedures such as amputations or when doctors are fusing flesh together can become overwhelming.
  4. Medications – Certain medications carry a strong, distinct odor.

According to StraightANursing.com, extremely bad breath is another common smell associated with patients experiencing liver failure.

Because these smells are all part of the job, nurses have to become pros as managing this obstacle in order to provide patients with compassion and the best possible care. After all, studies have shown that compassionate care can improve patient outcomes. "The human condition is one that is truly resilient," Valery said when asked how she copes. "We adapt like crazy."

But when the smells become overwhelming, Valery shared her favorite tool for stifling the stench. "One of the famous ways to do it is to wear surgical masks," Valery said. "Smear toothpaste on the inside of the mask and it acts like a barrier."

In lieu of toothpaste, Valery also recommends dabbing lavender, eucalyptus, or peppermint oils on the inside of your mask.

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Here are a few more hacks from Nurse.org:

  • Wear mint-flavored Chapstick.
  • Buy a can of Vicks VapoRub and a dab some under your nose.
  • Pop a strong mint or minty gum into your mouth before heading into the room.
  • Keep your patients and their rooms clean.
  • Coffee grounds, coffee grounds, coffee grounds! Keep some in your work bag so that you can smell the grounds and clear any odors that are stuck in your nose. You can also discreetly place them around rooms where smells are particularly strong.
  • Check each patient's chart before you walk in the room to give yourself a chance to prepare for what you might smell once you walk in.
  • Instead of wearing one surgical mask, double up and wear two for extra coverage.
  • Take breaths through your mouth instead of your nose.
  • Focus on being empathetic.