Allergy, Nose & Sinus

Eight reasons why you should treasure your sense of smell – It is more important than you think!

February 10, 2020

Smell is one of the five human senses. Unfortunately, it is also often the most neglected one. Many people with reduced or loss of sense of smell will often ignore it or may not even realise it! Dr Gan explains why your sense of smell is more important than you think!



1. Appreciation of food flavours



Most of you are probably unaware that your appreciation of good food actually comes from your ability to smell the flavours from the food. When you eat, the food flavours do travel from the back of your mouth up to your nose and is sensed by your smell nerves on the roof of your nasal cavity. If you have a cold, flu or sinusitis, your nose will be congested or blocked.  This prevents the odor from the food to reach the smell nerve. Your food will then taste bland but your taste buds are actually intact! You should still be able to taste sweetness, sourness, bitterness, saltiness and umami. Hence, the next time you complain that your food taste bland or is “tasteless” while others think it is okay, don’t blame your tongue as it is likely your nose that is the problem!



2. Appreciation of nature



Many of us may take for granted that our appreciation of the beauty of nature does involve the ability to smell the freshness of sea breeze, the scent of a flower or the earthy scent of grass after rain until we have a cold or have problems with our nose! So, the next time you go outdoors, do take a moment and appreciate nature through your nose!



3. Detection of danger



Your ability to smell is important to detect spoilt or rotten food, smoke from fire, poisonous gas and a leaking gas in the kitchen. If you can’t smell danger, certain precautions have to be taken as follows:



  1. Consider installing smoke, carbon monoxide and gas detectors in your home, especially in the kitchen
  2. Consider changing from natural gas appliances to electric
  3. Ensure that you pay attention to the expiry dates of all food
  4. Read the warning labels of all products (especially cleaning agents and insecticides) for potential toxic chemicals



4. Crucial in certain occupations



Some occupation requires a good sense of smell. These include chefs, wine connoisseur, food tasters and fireman.  If your sense of smell is lacking, it will be a challenge to excel in these jobs!



5. Maternal-infant bonding



The bond between a mother and her child is more than just emotional hearstrings. Mothers and children can recognize each other from the pheromones (a chemical that has a unique smell produced by the body) that they each emit. Hence having an intact sense of smell is crucial for this chemical bond especially for maternal-infant bonding.



6. Social interaction and relationships



The scent or odour of a person does play an integral part in our perception of that person’s attractiveness, social standing and even level of hygiene. Pheromones in animals have been shown to elicit sexual arousal in members of the opposite sex of the same species (thankfully or not thankfully it doesn’t work the same way with human pheromones!)



7. Reduced sense of smell has been linked to depression




Many studies have shown that people with reduced sense of smell are have a higher incidence of depression.  The cause is bidirectional ie reduction in sense of smell can lead to depression and vice versa. The proposed hypotheses suggest changes at both at a biochemical level (which I shall not bore you with the scientific jargons and medical overloading!) and at a social level. It has been postulated that people with reduced sense of smell may be frustrated with their inability to smell or may not be able to enjoy social outings with their companions who have a normal sense of smell (e.g. unable to enjoy good food together, or may feel embarrassed that they can’t detect bad odour etc). This may lead to social isolation and possibly low mood level and depression.



8. Reduced sense of smell is an early sign of Alzheimer’s disease (type of dementia) and Parkinson’s disease



Studies have shown that sense of smell is dramatically reduced in older age and in neurodegenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. Hence, there has been increasing evidence that a clinic smell test may be used to detect loss of sense of smell as an early sign of Parkinson’s Disease or Alzheimer’s disease.



Best wishes,


Dr Gan Eng Cern
ENT Specialist Singapore


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