Of the five senses (see, hear, touch, smell, and taste), the sense of smell is often the most underappreciated. Studies have shown that as many as one in 20 people actually live without a sense of smell. However, smell is one of those things that many people take for granted until it’s gone and then find that so many aspects of life are disrupted.
Here’s why the sense of smell matters and what you can do to keep yours working well for many years to come.
Sense of Smell Basics
The sense of smell is part of the body’s chemo-sensory system and comes from olfactory sensory neurons inside the nose. These neurons are connected to the brain and stimulate receptors to make us think certain things when triggered by smells. Various smell disorders exist and affect a person’s ability to pick up scents or perceive odors in the appropriate ways. There are both physical and psychological effects of smell since smell is linked to overall health, as well as memory and emotion
Why Smell Is Important
Smell is associated with positive psychological development and emotional well-being because smells remind us of loved ones, childhood memories, and happy times. Smell can also affect a person’s personal hygiene, ability to create sexual intimacy with a partner, and being able to stay safe in an emergency situation. Oftentimes, smells provide early warning signs about the smoke of a house fire, spoiled food from the refrigerator, or a gas leak in the home.
Loss of smell can also be a sign of a serious medical condition that has not yet been diagnosed but for which an inability to sense smells is a symptom. Smell is also very connected to the sense of taste, which could reduce your quality of life and enjoyment of eating foods.
Causes of Smell Disorders
There are so many different things that can cause a loss of smell in the body. Head injuries, dental problems, and cancer radiation treatments commonly affect smell. Some elderly people report being able to smell fewer things as they age.
You likely won’t be able to smell as well when you have an upper respiratory infection, and the virus COVID-19 has also been linked to loss of smell in many people. Other possible causes for a loss of smell include hormonal disturbances, nervous system disorders, smoking cigarettes, and exposure to chemicals.
Types of Smell Disorders
However, not all smell disorders are the same, as there are a few ways that a disconnect can happen between the nose and the brain. Hyposmia occurs when you aren’t able to detect odors as well as normal, while anosmia is a complete loss of odor detection ability. A change in how a person perceives odors is parosmia. Some people sense odors that aren’t really there, which is called phantosmia.
How to Preserve Your Sense of Smell
Just as your body needs exercise, your sense of smell could use regular workouts too. To keep your sense of smell functioning well, one suggestion is to sniff familiar aromas each day, such as through an essential oil diffuser. Eucalyptus, rosemary, lemon, and mint are all good scents for opening up the senses.
Avoid your toxic exposure by using natural cleaning products so that chemical don’t negative affect your sense of smell. Limiting alcohol, avoiding cigarettes, and exercising a little every day can also support your smelling abilities. If you notice a sudden and unexplained loss of smell, make sure to get it checked out by a medical professional to determine if the change is temporary and harmless or a sign of something that needs looked into a bit further