Ever wondered why you can’t smell the fragrance you’re wearing? Or have you encountered a very strong fragrance from someone then after a while it doesn’t smell that strong anymore? Does it bother you when these things happen for fear that your nose might be broken?
Prolonged exposure to a particular smell causes olfactory fatigue or olfactory adaptation. It means a temporary inability to distinguish a particular smell after being exposed for a while.
No worries, this type of adaptation is normal. It is very different from anosmia, which is the permanent loss of the ability to smell. Olfactory fatigue or adaptation is an example of neural adaptation or sensory adaptation.
During this process, your brain adapts and recognises that the smell is not dangerous so it stops identifying it. It just means that over time, the body can become desensitised to a stimulus so the nervous system will not get overloaded.
This is the reason why you can’t smell the fragrance you are wearing after a while or to a strong odour after continued exposure. Your olfactory nerves have become accustomed to the offensive odour that it stops temporarily. But you also have to be sensitive.
Due to olfactory adaptation, a person who is wearing too much perfume do not realize this most of the time because its power is only one-fifth to you compared to other people.
Most of the time, olfactory adaptation becomes a blessing. Imagine being exposed to strong odours for a long period of time. It will not only cause headaches, it might also induce vomiting. This is particularly handy if you work around strong odours all the time or your work depends on your sense of smell. The olfactory sensors of our body adapt to the continuous stimuli by reducing its rate of firing. This automatic defence can now make your body react to a new stimulus.
Smelling perfume is much like drinking alcohol. After you had your fill or the drunker you get, the less you can taste whatever you are drinking. When you experience olfactory adaptation, what do you do to get that sense of smell back?
Have you noticed that cup of coffee beans always present in a perfume store? It is because the aroma of coffee beans can rejuvenate your sense of smell. Researchers suggest that coffee beans have unique molecular structure that could detach potent aromas from food and attach the strong odorants to olfactory senses (although there are who disagree with this method).
Another way to ease olfactory fatigue is to stop smelling for a while. If you can go out, stroll and breathe some fresh air, it will rejuvenate your senses. Because olfactory adaptation happens when specific receptors get clogged with a specific smell, it is also helpful to smell something completely different from what you smell. For example, if you are sniffing citrus, try a woody note.
If you want to prevent olfactory fatigue in the long run, another way to consider is to train your sense of smell. Like other things, the more you do it, you become better. Smelling different stuff will train your nose to smell longer without experiencing olfactory fatigue.
Yes, you can train your nose to do better in its job. Ron Winnegrad, Director of the International Flavours & Fragrances in New York suggests that if you keep small jars of ingredients like cloves, celery, vanilla, and even pencil shavings around the house and smelling them for about thirty minutes daily, you can have better sense of smell.
However, don’t go sniffing just yet. Winnegrad said that there is a special technique in doing this. Instead of giving it one deep sniff, make it two or three short ones and exhale, which is a sure way to prevent olfactory fatigue.