Can we improve our sense of smell?

We usually take our sense of smell for granted until we lose it when we have a cold and blocked up nose. This hyposmia, partial loss of the sense of smell, is luckily only temporary and soon returns to normal. We feel relieved, revel in being able to to smell and taste again and then slowly but surely take it for granted until next time.

However, as we grow older our sense of smell decreases and subtle aromas are lost on us. The delicate perfume of a rose becomes undetectable and only strong smells reach our awareness. There is a close relationship between our sense of smell and taste so as we become less sensitive to aromas we also lose the sensitivity of our taste buds. Currently a symptom of COVID-19 is anosmia, the total loss of sense of smell, and whilst people recover well there are many cases where the sense of smell does not return to normal. As a result people are experiencing different tastes and anecdotally report feelings of depression.

Our sense of smell links straight to our limbic system which controls our memories and influences our emotions. It would therefore make sense that feelings of depression would be experienced alongside anosmia as smells trigger memories and in turn influences mood.

As an example, today and yesterday spring has been in the air. The smell of freshness and warmth in the air and the grass triggers hope and happiness for me, reminding me we are on the right side of winter and warmer, brighter days are ahead. This is all fairly subconscious and related to my sense of smell. Not being able to experience this would be a loss indeed.

So, is it possible to retrain your nose to smell again? Or in the case of hyposmia improve your sense of smell?

The good news is, yes it is possible. Sommeliers spend years developing their sense of smell as do perfumers. Training the sense of smell is proving relevant in the current climate with COVID-19. Breathing in deeply over a range of aromas twice a day for a period of weeks can restore and reinvigorate the Olfactory System. The system responsible for sense of smell.

So how to begin… choose four different aromas. I chose ground coffee, ground ginger, marmalade and black pepper corns and put them into air tight containers. These are strong aromas that are good to begin nose training. See above photo. Then breathe naturally and hold one of the bottles to your nose as you breathe. It doesn’t need to be there longer than 10 seconds. As you breathe focus on what you can smell and any associations that come to mind. You might want to write down your thoughts into a diary to track your progress. Perhaps drink some water to clear your palate and then take the next aroma. Do the same again but also compare the strength of this aroma with the previous one. Continue in the same way with the rest of them. If you can’t smell anything write that down in your diary. Still continue to hold the aroma to your nose anyway.

Follow this process twice a day, ideally in the morning and the evening, for a week. Observe if the smells get stronger as the week progresses. The following week select four different aromas to increase your range. Essential oils are good to use because they are consistent and have a clear, pure scent. Studies tend to use rose, eucalyptus, clove and lemon but use any you like, or more significantly, have to hand.

Continue this for twelve weeks, revisiting previous aromas and incorporating new ones. Get into the habit of increasing the use of your sense of smell. When you take the lid off products, open boxes or follow your morning routine inhale their aromas. Hold your shampoo to your nose before lathering up, inhale the delicate scent of tea or stronger smell of coffee, pay attention to the smell of your bread as it toasts: being aware of the aromas you are experiencing keeps you in the present moment. The perfect place to be. Smell training is a great opportunity to incorporate mindfulness into your day.

I would be interested to hear your thoughts on improving sense of smell and your experiences of following the training so please do leave comments on this. If you need help with sourcing essential oils, please get in touch and I can make suggestions for you.

2 Comments on “Can we improve our sense of smell?

  1. A very interesting and informative blog. My husband and I are going to try to improve our sense of smell using your suggestions over the coming weeks.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is an excellent idea. We take our sense of smell for granted. So I must try this. Thank you for the information.


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