When you visit your friend’s house, you can choose what scent he smells. But have you ever wondered why you can’t smell your house? It’s not that your house doesn’t smell. Every home carries a certain scent, even the royal Buckingham Palace too. Some smell like perfume, while others may smell like pets or foods, or even mold. You can’t smell your house because of a common sensory adaptation phenomenon called “nose blindness“!
Nasal blindness is also known as “olfactory adaptation”, “olfactory fatigue”, or “odor fatigue”. It makes your brain let go of certain smells, like the smells of your house! The inability to smell your body or your usual perfume is also an example of olfactory adaptation or nasal blindness.
Why do you smell other people’s homes and not your own?
When you first encounter a new scent, aerosols (odor molecules) pass through your nose and land on odor-sensing receptors. Odor-sensing receptors send nerve signals to the olfactory bulb within the brain’s limbic system. The limbic system is responsible for emotional and behavioral responses, and is therefore able to identify smell.
Then your brain decides what to do about the smell. If your brain perceives that they are not threatening, the odor sensing receptors begin to turn off, and the intensity of the scent begins to diminish because they do not need close attention. However, this happens very quickly, within a few breaths.
Apparently, there is no reasonable explanation as to why this is happening. But scientists hypothesize that ignoring certain smells allows your brain to be more alert to changes in smells nearby. It enables the brain to identify potential threats.
Moreover, constantly noticing every scent in your surroundings can cause your senses to overstimulate. Therefore, olfactory adaptation decreases the ability to pick up on familiar odors and increases the ability to sense odors that require your attention. This is why you can quickly identify a gas leak but cannot smell your own perfume.
How common is nasal blindness?
Although it’s a good idea not to smell your house, is there any need to worry about nasal blindness? Surprisingly, everyone is blind to some extent. This means that even if you are the quickest scent picker in your group of friends, you still likely can’t tell how your house smells. However, it could be an alarming sign if you can’t pick up a scent that most people around you can or vice versa. It may indicate a medical condition or sinusitis. So, as long as you are not hypersensitive or completely unresponsive to scents, you have nothing to worry about!
Can you get rid of nasal blindness?
Nasal blindness is a common phenomenon, and there is no way you can permanently overcome it. However, there are some natural ways to get rid of nasal blindness temporarily. You can try staying out of your house more than usual, such as taking long walks, spending more time at the gym, or just enjoying your yard. When you enter your home again, you will surprisingly find that your ability to smell your home has improved for a short time.
Exercise can also temporarily improve your sense of smell while increasing blood flow. You can try a headstand or jogging up and down stairs to get your blood flowing and temporarily stimulating your senses of smell.
Interestingly, the easiest way to train your brain to notice a smell that you normally ignore is to worry about the smell. This is correct! Your brain can turn on the sensory receptors for a particular smell if you stress or worry about it enough. However, the scent will fade once you lose focus.
There are other reasons why you might smell in other people’s homes but not yours.
Your nose is more mysterious than you think. While your nose is getting used enough to certain scents to ignore them, the following are some medical phenomena that can cause your nose to behave erratically.
An olfactory hallucination or an olfactory delusion is when your nose plays tricks on you, and you experience smells that are not really there around you. Upper respiratory tract stimulation, head injury, sinusitis, brain tumors, etc. can all cause phantom smell. There have also been reports of delusional delusions from COVID-19 infection. Usually, an optical illusion is not something to worry about. However, it could be a sign of an underlying medical condition if it does not clear up within a couple of days. In such a case, you should consider seeing a doctor.
Parosmia is a medical condition in which your brain cannot properly perceive odors, meaning you have a distorted sense of smell. This usually occurs when the olfactory receptors inside your nose fail to detect smells correctly and send false signals to your brain. For example, you smell a watermelon, and instead of a fruity smell, you feel an unpleasant smell like a rotten tomato. Colds, head injuries, medications, sinus infections, etc. can also cause parosmia. You may also have trouble detecting odors due to smoking, exposure to chemicals, side effects of chemotherapy, etc.
3 Decreased sense of smell and loss of smell
Anosmia is a medical condition in which your ability to identify odors is reduced. You may not feel the actual strength of the scent if you have a decreased sense of smell. Whereas with anosmia, you completely lose your ability to smell. Some allergies, head injuries, influenza, etc. can lead to a decreased sense of smell and anosmia. In some rare cases, some people have been reported to have lost their sense of smell from birth!
4 Excessive sense of smell
If you are highly sensitive to smell, you may be suffering from hyperosmia. People with a heightened sense of smell, such as hyperosmia, are also referred to as “super smellers.” Pregnancy, sclerosis, epilepsy, psychiatric conditions, etc. can all be responsible for an excessive sense of smell.