Going nose blind is a puzzling reaction to common smells
It happens every time: a new diffuser, a different wax melt or even a fresh air conditioning spray. It smells heavenly and fills the rooms with a new, exotic scent. But, over time, it begins to fade until the next time someone enters the dorm, the smell is gone, never to be smelled again. But to anyone else who walks by, the scent is there, thriving, smelling up the halls. So what happens to someone’s nose during this? How does the nose essentially forget how to distinguish the scent?
Mary Ann Stahovich, assistant professor of physician assistant studies, said that nose blindness is a “temporary condition that’s actually not considered a medical issue.”
Instead, Stahovich said that nose blindness is most often caused by ongoing exposure to repeated smells, which can lead to overexposure of someone’s olfactory glands. This overexposure can lead the senses to become worn out on a smell and, after a while, will force the nose to stop being receptive to the smell.
However, an important distinction must be made between normal nose blindness, such as when experiencing the scent of a new air freshener, and around anosmia, which is a medical condition very common after the pandemic in which there is a reduction, or even total loss, of smelling ability.
Stahovich says that while clinical nose blindness, as well as situational nose blindness, has not been studied in depth in the laboratory, it is a topic that deserves more research.
Stahovich said that usually people go nose blind to unpleasant smells faster than pleasant smells, so for instance, your nose would be more receptive to a repetitive sweet strawberry mist over the smell of a used kitty litter pan.
Even for students who have lost their smell permanently due to COVID-19 rather than everyday nose blindness, there is still hope of regaining the ability to smell. Recent studies have shown that olfactory therapy and training can help people regain their sense of smell.
In an article by Martin Kronenbuerger and Manfred Pilgramm published on pubmed.gov, they explain that olfactory therapy is “a non-pharmacological and non-surgical treatment option for patients with olfactory dysfunction. Patients undergoing olfactory training expose themselves to 4 different odors twice daily for at least 24 weeks.”
While this therapy is most effective when implemented soon after the olfactory system is damaged, this therapy can help patients reestablish and regain their sense of smell after being damaged by injury or by illness.
Luis Alfonso Matute, senior nursing major, said that he, like many people, suffers from occasional nose blindness in his dorm.
“There’s been many times I have brought people over and they smell things I don’t,” Matute said.
Personally, Matute said that, while he believes that people go nose blind faster to bitter smells, he finds that he goes nose blind quicker when it is a smell he personally enjoys, such as candles, including mahogany or lavender.
An article on Healthline explains the phenomena of nose blindness in a more evolutionary and survivalist way. Humans are exposed to thousands of sensory stimuli daily, and the brain has developed a system to filter through these stimuli to highlight only the important input.
One advancement in this system allowed the brain to learn to ignore certain common sensory inputs in favor of more pressing and important inputs, such as the smell of toast burning or the smell of gas in the home.
Becoming nose blind is a phenomenon that happens to everyone, and it’s not just a fluke of evolution that stops people from enjoying the smell of their newly acquired air freshener. Becoming nose blind to common smells allows the brain to focus on the important smells — smells that really matter.