17th July 2024

Facts about our Sense of Smell

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Our sense of smell begins at the back of nose, where there are millions of sensory neurons which is an epithelial tissue in the olfactory epithelium. The tips of these cells contain proteins which are called receptors that bind odour molecules. The receptors are like locks and the keys to open these locks are the odour molecules that float past, explains Leslie Vosshall, a scientist who studies olfaction at Rockefeller University.  Our sense of smell can cause us to be happy or in fear. This could be the smell of flowers which can make you feel happy and content. If you smell fire, this could mean that you need to run for your life, however, this depends on the situation.

Research has shown that humans should no longer be considered poor at smelling. It suggests that your nose can outperform your eyes and ears which can discriminate between several million colours and about half a million tones. 


The sense of smell is closely linked with our memory, and this is probably more than any of our other senses. Those with full olfactory function may be able to think of smells that evoke particular memories; the scent of a perfume can conjure up recollections of a favourite relative or when one was very young.


Dogs have the ability of dogs to follow scent trails and research carried out in 2017  found that we can. We do not have the advantage of the optimised airflow through a dog’s nose. However, if we practice, we could get to the level of a dog’s nose. We can effectively track the trail of freshly baked break from a distance away – try and see how you get on.  


At the University of Pennsylvania, they have carried out collaborative research with a number of institutions, including researchers in Tehran, where the first study showed that smell loss is in fact present. There have been many self-reports of smell loss occurring, but no one has actually given olfactory tests. With COVID-19, it has been found that most people get their sense of smell back.

Studies have shown that within two to four weeks, most people have their sense of smell return, although it would appear not quite to the level they had before. Around 25 percent or more of people with smell loss will experience it long-term. University of Pennsylvania do not know whether it is permanent, but it is quite possible in many cases.

Essential Oils

Essential oils have many different properties. For symptoms such as anxiety, insomnia and aggression, there are some essential oils which are ideal to help to relax and these are chamomile, lavender, vanilla, rose and neroli essential oils

A few drops can be used in your bath or a few drops can be added to a tea light candle before you light it.  Depending on how strong you like it will depend on how much to use, however, start with a couple of drops.

Lavender is an ‘old’ style smell and is great for relaxation. It can help you to relax, and at the same time, it also eases aches and pains, such as headaches.  You can sprinkle four drops on a tissue and inhale deeply for sudden stress.


 Add a few drops of lavender oil to 50 mls of distilled water. This can be put in a 50ml spray bottle which can be purchased from pharmacies.  The spray lasts ages and is always lovely and fresh.  You could keep one in the hall which is handy especially when you are expecting visitors or you just want a fresh and uplifting fragrance.

Sandalwood and nutmeg can also help to relieve some of the effects of stress, but they require to be used along with other techniques.

Patchouli oil helps eliminate anxiety and can lift your mood, and some say that it is also an aphrodisiac.

Extract is from Stress Management for Carers book
which is also suitable for non-carers. Try it and see
for yourself  here