Here’s why you smell terribly

  • Can you smell something? If not, then today’s letter is for you 
  • How to rescue your sense of smell 
  • Try this nasal workout for 80 seconds a day

My friend has lost her sense of smell.

She emailed me about it yesterday.

“I’ve even shoved garlic cloves up my nose,” K wrote to me, “…but nothing!”

It happened about six days after she developed COVID symptoms over Christmas.

From what I’ve read and heard so far, people seem to get slightly different manifestations of this virus – it’s not always a fever, cough and loss of taste.

In K’s case it was a headache, mild cough and fatigue.

So it wasn’t as bad an ordeal as many others have experienced.

But just as she thought she was recovering, K woke up one morning to a world without scent.

She’s a keen foodie, so she’s distraught.

Because not only can she no longer smell what she’s cooking, but her sense of taste is affected too.

K was keen for me to look at some methods of getting back her sense of smell, so I thought I’d share them in today’s email.

Because this is not just a COVID-19 thing…

Loss of smell can affect us all!

Why we get worse at smelling as we age

When you breathe through your nose, air travels through your nostrils to the receptor neurons in your olfactory mucosa, at the top of your nasal cavity.

As you age, your olfactory mucosa begins to shed cells, becoming weaker.

Once the aroma has triggered those receptors, the signal travels along the olfactory nerve to the ‘olfactory bulb’, a bit at the front of your brain which translates the signal into your perception of smell.

The number of fibres and receptors in this important zone also decrease significantly with age.

On top of that, our central nervous system begins to lose its cognitive processing powers.

All three factors contribute to a decline in our powers of smell.

When this happens, not only do smells become weaker, but we also lose our ability to discriminate between different scents.

It’s estimated that more than 75% of people over the age of 80 have a serious olfactory impairment. This can also come with a loss in taste, though that’s not quite as common.

Other risk factors for a loss of smell include:

  • Head injuries
  • Upper respiratory infections
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Dental problems
  • Over-exposure to insecticides, solvents and household chemical products

Now, you could dismiss a loss of smell as a minor gripe.

But that’s to underestimate the power of scent.

When we cannot smell, we lose our ability to taste food and drink properly.

You see, when you are chewing a piece of food, odour molecules reach the back of your nasal cavity, like smoke going up a chimney, and activate the receptors.

According to Harvard University’s Venkatesh Murthy, an expert in molecular and cellular biology: “All of what you consider flavour is smell. When you are eating all the beautiful, complicated flavours… they are all smell.”

So a loss in your sense of smell almost completely destroys your powers of taste.

If you love your grub as much as I do, that’s a huge loss!

And it gets worse…

The link between smell and mood

Smell is also really important when it comes to memory and emotion – in fact, more so than any other sense!

When your olfactory bulb processes a signal from your nose into a ‘smell’ it zaps that information to your ‘limbic system’, which includes the amygdala and the hippocampus. These are areas of your brain that deal with emotion and memory.

So you are losing more than just the temporary enjoyment of smell, you are losing access to bits of your past and also an important aspect of your emotional functioning.

This could be one reason why studies have shown that people without a sense of smell are more likely to experience depression and low moods.

However, all is not lost…

Revealed, a workout programme for your nose

The good news is, your nose is like a muscle that can be strengthened with exercise.

You just need to give it a workout every day to repair those damaged nerves and get your sensors activated again.

This is something that many GPs and other medical professionals are recommending to people who have lost their sense of smell because of COVID-19.

It’s called ‘smell training’.

What you do is get four strong scents and sniff them every day for around 20 seconds each.

The most common options are rose, lemon, clove and eucalyptus essential oils.

That’s all you need!

As you breathe in through your nose, you need to actively focus your attention on those scents – almost like meditation – forging that all-important link between the brain and the receptors in your nasal cavity.

On top of that, you should also pay attention to other smells during the day, trying to pick them up wherever you can, whether that’s bread baking in the oven or cider mulling on the stove.

The results won’t be instantaneous. Nerves take time to heal. Which means it could be anything from two months to two years to get your sense of smell back to how it was.

However, it’s recommended that you do continual daily smell training for a minimum of four months to get the benefit.

I know that sounds a long time, but it’s only 80 seconds of sniffing a day, and the results could be worth it.