Predicting the hour and method of your death is something that humans have been fascinated by for centuries. Some of us would never want to know, while others feel a burning need to see the future. It all has to do with the idea that if you know you are about to die, you can act accordingly– saying goodbye to your loved ones, setting out a will, and so forth.
We can’t tell you the future, but we can certainly help you to foresee when death might be imminent. With the use of your senses, if you are paying attention, you might be able to spot that death is on the way. Some of the examples on this list will give you a matter of seconds to take action if you want to avoid the reaper. Some will give you the chance to seek medical help. For others, there is no way out– death has already claimed you for its own.
Of course, there’s not much cause to worry. Most of us will never smell some of these things, and if we do, it could be for a perfectly innocent reason. But if you do get that whiff in your nostrils, it’s probably worth doing a quick check that the smell is coming from an innocent source.
15. Rotting Fruit
You might have a bit of trouble smelling this one, because it will be coming from your own body. If your loved ones notice it they should tell you, and then you will need to get yourself to hospital right away. A sweet rotting smell, which has often been likened to the smell of rotting fruit or meat, is a sign that you might have cancer. The smell comes from the fact that the cancer is literally rotting your own cells away. It’s a sign that something really isn’t right inside you, and you should get yourself checked out as soon as possible. Those who have lived with cancer for a long time without treatment are said to give this smell off very strongly, to the point that you may struggle to stay in the same room with them as a result. It’s not something that can be ignored easily.
Raw sewage is a smell that most of us would rather never encounter, but we often do at at least one point in our lives. Whether it’s a toilet facility where things have gone a bit wrong, a burst or flooded sewage pipe, or something more sinister, it’s a smell that you will never forget. It’s also a pretty bad thing to be caught up in. If you find yourself knee-deep in sewage and smelling it all around, you could be in line for quite the cocktail of nasty diseases. This is also the kind of smell that you would expect to encounter if your digestive system, particularly the lower parts, were to suddenly and unexpectedly find itself outside of your body and exposed to the open air. Neither of these are particularly nice ways to go, but at least if you do catch a disease from sewage you have a chance of being able to survive it.
13. Lilacs, Onions, or Mustard
From modern warfare, back to the consequences of war in times gone by. During the First World War, and even up to more modern conflicts, mustard gas was used to attack the troops. It was certainly possible that you would be able to survive contact with it, but only if you were incredibly lucky– and all the same, you would suffer from the symptoms for life. It causes large blisters on the skin and lungs, and can basically melt your face off if you don’t have protection from it, such as a gas mask. It can burn your whole body and cause blindness, and in these cases death was often a kinder fate. Those who have managed to survive a mustard gas attack have described the smell very clearly. Some say it smells like lilacs while others say onions. Some also say mustard, which is not surprising given the name.
12. Bitter Almond
If you take a sniff of your food or drink and find that it has a faint smell of bitter almonds, you might want to inquire as to the ingredients. Bitter almond is the famous smell that comes from cyanide, a potent poison that can kill you outright and has been used in many famous murder cases throughout history. It is often used in small doses over time for deliberate cases of poisoning, so that the victim gradually becomes weaker and weaker before dying. Only around 40% of people can actually smell the bitter almond aroma– the rest of us would stand no chance at all. Of course, the cleverest poisoner would simply conceal the scent by putting it into a dish which already contained almonds. Not that that’s any reason for you to never eat almonds again, of course. It’s probably fine. Nothing to worry about at all, honest.
If you are ever caught in a house fire– which will hopefully not be the case– then you might find that the smell of smoke is your first warning sign. If you do sense smoke then your best bet is to get out of there as soon as possible and call for help. Smoke inhalation can actually be more deadly than the fire itself, killing you before the flames reach you. Smoke will give you a very scratchy throat and could have long-lasting effects even if you do make it out in time. In most cases, the lack of oxygen simply knocks you out so that you don’t have a chance to escape. This is most common in nightly house fires, when the sleeping occupants never wake up to discover the flames. If you can smell smoke and it’s only because you are smoking a cigarette, don’t imagine that you are safe– aside from being one of the leading causes of house fires, cigarettes will give you cancer sooner or later.
10. Burnt Toast
Another phantom smell that people sometimes experience when unwell is that of burnt toast. It’s very well documented, and you might have thought of it immediately if you know anything about these kinds of hallucinations. The illness that a burnt toast smell is most closely associated with is a stroke. If you pick up this smell, remember to watch out for the other symptoms of a stroke and try to get help immediately. The quicker a medical team can respond to a stroke, the better chance they have of helping the patient to recover. The other signs are drooping muscles in the face, difficulty with speech, weakness in the arm, dizziness or loss of balance, trouble seeing or blurred vision, confusion, and numbness. If you are unable to call the emergency services yourself thanks to the confusion and other symptoms, try to communicate as quickly as you can to someone else that you are in need of help. If you have visual signs, they may be able to figure it out before you.
This acrid smell is one that lingers in the nostrils for a long time, and it is a sure sign of near danger. The smell of gunpowder is usually triggered when a gun is fired, leaving the scent to linger in the air afterwards. If you smell gunpowder, it could mean that a gun has recently been fired, perhaps at you. Even if you are the one firing the gun, you won’t be kept safe by this fact. It will make you a target to be quickly taken out, either by the police or by those who you are shooting at. If you smell gunpowder because you are near to a large amount of it, for example in a storage area, then you could be in a lot of danger too. It is highly flammable and even a small spark could trigger a huge explosion, taking you with it.
Here is a smell that means death is near– and there is nothing that you can do about it. As your body begins to shut down and prepare for death, the metabolism changes. The skin, bodily fluids, and the breath start to give off a distinct odour. It is often described as being similar to acetone, or nail polish remover. Once the body starts to give off this smell, it means the end is near. You may notice this if you have a loved one with a terminal illness, or an elderly relative. It can often be unpleasant, but it does mean that you should stay by their side as you will not have to endure it for long. Particularly with stomach or bowel cancer, the smell can be very pungent and unpleasant for those near to the dying person. You may be too far gone by this point to smell it on yourself.
We’ve already covered the smell of deadly mustard gas, but this time we’re referring more to the kind of gas that you might smell if there is a gas leak in the house. This could for example happen if the gas on the stove has been turned on, but not lit. Gas is highly flammable, as we know from the fact that we use it as a source of heat. A gas leak could easily turn into a large-scale explosion, enough to destroy entire houses and turn them into rubble. If you do smell gas, your first thought should be to look for the source, as you may be able to shut it off. If you have no idea of the source or no way to stop it, get outside and far away as soon as possible. Once you are out of immediate range, call the emergency services and report the gas leak. Don’t use your phone inside the area that is polluted with gas, as this could potentially cause a spark and set off the lot.
The smell of rotten eggs is one that we are all too familiar with. We often say that smelling sulphur is a sign that a demon is nearby, although of course this is just superstition. In reality, however, smelling sulphur gas could actually be very harmful to you. Besides the fact that it may be flammable, sulphur can cause damage enough on its own. If you inhale it, it can do damage to your lungs, your nose, and your eyes. You may start to cough as soon as you catch the smell, and will go on to have difficulty breathing. It can even burn your skin if you have enough of a concentrated exposure to it. If you get away and get help before you stop breathing, it can still have a long-term effect on your kidneys. If you should catch this smell, try to ascertain the cause immediately.
Bad breath is a huge social discomfort, so most of us would probably be very happy to find that our breath smelt like grapefruit. After all, what’s wrong with smelling like a sweet but healthy fruit? However, there’s definitely a reason for concern if you haven’t eaten any grapefruit lately. This sweet smell on the breath could actually be a sign of diabetes. If left unchecked, this can cause a myriad of health problems, including death. We normally burn energy from insulin, but when there is none left, the body turns to fat, which causes this sweeter smell to be emitted. Ketones are released during the process, and they hold the fruity smell. Your partner is more likely to notice this than you are, so make it clear to them that you won’t be offended if they point out a strange smell on your breath on more than on occasion.
A very interesting study was recently carried out which looked at sense of smell, and how it can give us a timeline for death. More than 3,000 participants were asked to smell 5 things, which were strongly scented with peppermint, fish, oranges, roses, and leather. They then monitored the participants over the next 5 years. 39% of those who could not smell anything were dead within 5 years, and 19% of those who only managed to identify one or two smells were dead. For those who passed the test easily, only 10% had died. So there you have it– if your sense of smell starts to disappear for no reason, then you could be within 5 years of death.
3. Burning Hair
There are a number of smells which might be an indication of something about to go wrong, especially if you are the only person who can smell them. The brain can actually misfire in some cases and cause you to believe that you are smelling something that is not there, particularly an unpleasant smell such as burning hair. This kind of olfactory hallucination can be a sign of trouble in your brain. One cause that could arise is a brain tumour, while an infection is another. Both of these could easily lead to death if they are not discovered in time, but the survival rate of people with a brain tumour is relatively low either way because of the difficulty of operating on the brain. If you think that you are smelling something which is not there, you should get to the doctor as soon as possible for a check-up.
2. Burning Rubber
When asked about what the smell of modern warfare was like, one soldier described it as “burning rubber”. He gave this opinion after doing a tour of duty in Iraq, where he noticed that the fire services were one of the first things to be abandoned during war. When buildings were set on fire, they would continue to burn unchecked, spreading to cars and other vehicles left abandoned on the road. For weeks at a time, the only thing you could smell in the city was burning rubber. If your city air has this scent all the time, it’s a sign that you are in a war zone– and your life is in immediate danger. Unfortunately, for many around the world, this is currently a reality– something that we can often forget when sitting behind our computers many miles away. A soldier heading into a city where the air carries this smell will also know that he is taking his life into his own hands.
This one is more symbolic, but it could be a creepy premonition of your death. Lilies, particularly white lilies, are closely associated with death. They are an appropriate funeral flower, and if you receive a gift of white lilies from an admirer, you might want to give them straight back. Smelling lilies probably won’t kill you exactly, but it is a sign that death has happened recently. If you are smelling them often because you are going to a lot of funerals, it likely means that you haven’t got long left yourself. Particularly as you grow older and friends start to die on a regular basis, you will know that you are coming to the end of what is likely to be your normal life span. Still, this is the one that you can panic about the least.