Among your many senses, your ability to perceive scents, like freshly baked bread or a floral bouquet, brings joy to your life. These scents can evoke happy memories and even warn you of danger, in the case of smoke or a gas leak. Most of the time, our sense of smell functions normally, but a variety of things can cause your sense of smell to waiver.
The Nose Knows
The olfactory sensory neurons that interpret scents are located high inside the nose. When the neurons detect molecules in the air, the information is relayed to the brain for interpretation. While the human body has an ample supply of neurons, environmental scents outnumber them, causing the molecules to trigger multiple receptors and causing a unique perception of a given scent. In short, no two noses are alike, and every scent is perceived in a unique manner.
Temperatures Impact Scent
Have you ever noticed that the scents of the holiday season tend to be warmer and richer than those during the summer? Cool winter weather keeps a fragrance’s top and heart notes aloft longer since they don’t evaporate as fast. Likewise, the citrusy fragrances we associate with spring and summer evaporate quickly, so the top and heart notes disappear quicker. One way to counteract this is to make sure your skin is moist or freshly moisturized before applying them.
Diet and Medication Change Body Chemistry
Doctors often say we are what we eat. Similarly, our diet and body chemistry can modify how a fragrance smells throughout the day. Certain spicy and aromatic foods can modify your chemistry, and medication can change your body’s chemistry as well as your sense of smell. Imagine applying a fruity/floral perfume in the morning and then eating a garlic-laden Italian meal. Chances are the garlic will be secreted through your skin, turning any fragrance on your body into something less enticing.
Aging Changes Our Ability to Smell
We may get wiser as we age, but that doesn’t mean all of our bodily functions improve over time. Anosmia, which is the clinical term for a complete loss of smell, is common in adults over 50, but it can happen at any age. It often begins at the onset of a cold or sinus infection, and allergies can trigger it as well. Your sense of smell prevents you from eating spoiled food, so adapting can be difficult since a loss of taste often occurs simultaneously. Sharing meals with a loved one or close friend can help ensure you eat safely if you suffer from anosmia. Tip: It’s also important to install and maintain smoke detectors in your home, so they will alert you if a fire breaks out.
When Things Go Awry, Call Your Doctor
Most smell disorders stem from injuries, lifestyle habits, medication, head or neck cancer, and diseases like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s that impact the nervous system. The disorders can be temporary, like during a sinus infection, or permanent, so it’s important to see your primary care provider to rule out something potentially long-term.