Our sense of smell is an integral and important part of our experience. But what happens when it doesn’t work?
Anosmia is the inability to smell. When we have a cold, flu, sinus disease or upper respiratory infections, we can experience temporary anosmia. Specific anosmia occurs when a particular odor or class of odors is odorless to the normal person.
Hyperosmia is an above average sensitivity to smell which women can sometimes experience during pregnancy.
There are several causes which can impair olfaction classified under two categories:
- Natural causes – related to odor fatigue and / or aging
- Unnatural causes – related to illness, trauma and the environment.
This is also known as sensory adaptation. Adaptation is the decline in the response to a continued or repeated stimulus, such as an odor. When we are shopping for a new fragrance in a department store the olfactory receptors become fatigued with so many different perfume compounds being sprayed everywhere. Soon everything either smells the same or has no smell at all.
The odor molecules have bombarded the olfactory epithelium putting it in overload – it can no longer transit correctly. Removal of the odor allows the olfactory receptors to recover. This can also happen when working in an odorous environment. In less than a few hours (depending on the odor) you can no longer smell the dominant odor.
Human being’s olfactory sensitivity peaks between the ages of 20 to 40. This is followed by a general decline until the person reaches age 65. At this point there is further, very definite decline and in people aged 80 and older there is major olfactory impairment. This is due to the fact that nerve cells in the olfactory bulb waste away with age. Studies have shown that odors for a 70 year old must be seven times stronger than what is required for a 20 year old to detect.
- Olfactory aging can present hazards to the elderly such as not being able to detect the smell of escaping gas or spoiled food.
Among the main illnesses which are often accompanied by loss or distortion of smell, are Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. In fact, olfactory loss can be the first clinical manifestation of these two diseases.
Other diseases associated with olfactory impairment include:
- Cystic fibrosis
- Acute viral hepatitis (inflammation of the liver)
- Tumors, cancer radiation therapy, chemotherapy
- Endocrine disorders ie. hypothyroidism
- Viral infections
- Psychiatric disorders ie. schizophrenia and depression
The nasal cavity can be infected or damaged due to trauma. There can be sensory or neural loss when the olfactory epithelium, nerves and tract are damaged due to trauma, lesions or tumors.
Medications and chemical pollutants that can affect the sense of smell include:
Medications / drugs
- Anti-thyroid agents
- Anti-anginal drugs
- Paint solvents
The traditional thinking that the sense of smell does not play a very important role in our lives is rapidly changing. What has been discovered is that its effect on our emotions is much more powerful than previously anticipated. It is being taken much more seriously, especially with regard to the understanding and treatment of psychosomatic disorders.
Retuning and Refining the Sense of Smell
By adopting a holistic (whole body) lifestyle, including a natural, balanced diet, physical exercise, diaphragmatic breathing, physical and mental (meditation) relaxation exercises and by using pure cosmetics and household products, we can develop our sense of smell to a point of natural balance.
These practices not only help in eliminating olfactory dysfunction, but they also help in revitalizing the original, healthy relationship that exists between our bodies and nature.
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