Spring has sprung! For many people, it’s a wonderful season that’s full of warm weather and sensational scents, including the smell of freshly cut grass and the smell of rain on a hot sidewalk. But for the more than 60 million Americans who suffer from allergies, spring often brings another round of misery from symptoms like sneezing and nasal congestion. Beyond causing discomfort, these symptoms can also affect your sense of smell – something that’s more important than many people realize. With this in mind, when the spring season kicks off, please find below some “dos and don’ts” when it comes to the sense of smell.
- recognize that smell is linked to memories and emotions
- know that everyone experiences their own smell world
- understand allergy symptoms can inhibit the sense of smell
- seek treatment for nasal congestion due to allergies
- assume other senses are more important than smell
- confuse smell with taste
- misjudge the role of smells in your personal life
- underestimate the power of relief
Smells are chemicals – and although many people think of chemicals as bad things, they are integral to our experiences. Smell is also the only sense with a direct link to the part of the brain called the limbic system, which governs emotion and behavior. That’s why for many people, smells can evoke feelings or make them recall vivid or emotional old memories.
People can detect at least one trillion distinct scents but each person reacts to them in different ways. In fact, everyone has about 450 genes that contribute to molecular receptors on the sensory cells – and about one-third of them are hyper-variable. This means no two people experience the same smell world. We all experience olfaction in a different way.
Allergies often involve symptoms like congestion, which can inhibit your sense of smell. Smell receptors are proteins that reside on special sensory cells in the upper part of the nose. When access to this region is blocked due to inflammation from allergies, smell molecules may not reach these cells to activate them. As a result, external smells may be absent or altered.
Spring is the most fragrant time of the year, so it’s an important time to be able to smell clearly. If people have questions about their allergy symptoms or potential treatment options, it’s important for them to consult with a pharmacist, allergist, or other healthcare provider.
Studies have shown that the sense of smell contributes to our overall enjoyment of life. It also plays an important role in warning us of danger. For example, the smell of spoiled food can prevent us from eating it and the odorized smell of natural gas can prompt us to investigate or evacuate. It’s a powerful sense that affects us on a daily basis.
Smell and taste are often confused. Taste is actually limited to sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami (also known as savory). Everything else comes from our other senses—mostly our sense of smell. To better understand this concept, put a jelly bean in your mouth while plugging your nose with your other hand. You’ll notice that without the ability to smell, you will experience taste and texture but won’t be able to distinguish which flavor jelly bean you’re eating. It’s similar to what some people experience when they are suffering from congestion from their allergies.
Many people don’t realize that the sense of smell can impact our daily social interactions. It can even impact our romantic lives by influencing our choice of mate. Women are wired to pay attention to sensory cues that predict success in being able to have a child – and smelling somebody’s unique “odor print” is one of these cues. Essentially, odor prints provide insight into the genetic makeup of our immune system, so everyone subconsciously notices it.
It’s important for allergy sufferers to manage symptoms like congestion that could impact their sense of smell, especially in the spring so they can enjoy all of the happy smells of the season. Relieving these symptoms is like unplugging your nose in the jelly bean experiment.
Overall, smell not only enriches our experiences, it also contributes to our overall wellbeing. That’s why it’s so important for allergy sufferers to manage their symptoms and to celebrate all of the happy smells that spring has to offer.