Picture this: A new neighbor has just moved in next door. One evening, they invite you and a few other neighbors over for dinner.
As you enter the house, the scent of their two dogs hits you immediately and intensely. Meanwhile, your neighbor seems not to notice or mind. As time passes, the smell of the dogs seems to become less noticeable to you as well.
What you’ve just experienced is called nose blindness. It happens when common smells around you become less noticeable or even undetectable.
Let’s take a closer look at nose blindness, how it happens, and if it can be prevented.
Nose blindness is a temporary, naturally occurring adaptation of your body that leads to an inability to detect or distinguish common scents in your surroundings. It’s sometimes also referred to as olfactory fatigue or olfactory adaptation.
Nose blindness is often associated with areas where we spend a lot of time. It’s why we often have a hard time detecting common household odors. It’s also why the neighbor, in the example above, seemed unfazed by the scent of their dogs.
It’s important to note that nose blindness is different from anosmia, a condition in which your overall sense of smell is greatly reduced or even lost. While nose blindness happens naturally, anosmia can occur due to an infection, injury, or other factors.
Every day, your senses provide your brain with a wealth of information about your surroundings. Without some way to effectively filter through all of this incoming data, your brain could quickly become overstimulated.
This is where natural adaptations like nose blindness come in. By decreasing the perception of scents that you’re frequently or constantly exposed to, nose blindness can help prevent overstimulation of your senses.
Also, by decreasing your ability to detect common smells around you, it can make it easier for you to pick up on something that’s out of the ordinary and requires your attention.
Some examples of this include the scent of bread burning in your toaster or the smell of a gas leak in your home.
The exact biological details behind the mechanism of nose blindness are unknown. However, we do have a general picture of what’s going on in your body when it happens.
When you inhale an odorant (scent molecule), it binds to a receptor on a special type of sensory nerve cell that detects scents. This nerve cell produces an electrical signal that reaches your brain. Your brain then goes on to process the scent.
With repeated or continuous stimulation by a particular odorant, the nerve cell eventually stops sending its electrical signal to your brain. As a result, you no longer perceive the scent. Essentially, you become nose blind.
According to research, the following factors may influence nose blindness:
- Nose blindness is dependent on how an odorant enters the body. Research has shown that there is a greater impact on nose blindness if the odor is inhaled through your nose as opposed to through your mouth.
- Nose blindness seems to
develop fasterin response to unpleasant smells as opposed to pleasant smells.
- The shape and chemical properties of an odorant
can influencehow quickly or slowly nose blindness occurs.
There isn’t any particular way to prevent nose blindness. That’s because nose blindness is a natural adaptation of your body that occurs automatically. Most of the time, you’re not even aware that it’s happening.
However, there are some steps you can take to try to reduce nose blindness.
There are a few ways you can try to reduce nose blindness and get a better sense of what your home smells like. Let’s look at four strategies that may help.
Leave the area
The simplest way to reduce nose blindness in your home or another area where you spend a lot of time is to leave for a period of time and then return.
If you’ve ever been out of your home for a period of time and then upon returning notice that it smells different than it did before you left, you’ve already experienced this.
To detect odors in your home, the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends leaving your house for a few minutes and then reentering.
It may seem strange, but breaking a sweat could help out your sense of smell. In fact, a
How exactly exercise affects your sense of smell isn’t known. However, vigorous exercise, like cardio, definitely increases blood flow throughout your body, including in your nose. This may help you pick up on scents.
Coffee has been anecdotally reported as a potential palate cleanser for the nose. One hypothesis is that some odorants found in coffee may have properties that displace other odorants from scent-detecting nerve cells.
According to the study, people who’d inhaled coffee didn’t perform any better at scent identification than those that had inhaled lemon or plain air.
Be aware of it
While we don’t recommend stressing out too much over your home’s scent, being aware of it may help reduce nose blindness.
The reason for this is that when you consciously make an effort to think about something, your brain focuses more attention on it. This, in turn, may make you more sensitive to odors that you may have ignored before.
Even if it’s hard to detect common odors in your home, there are ways to help reduce them. The following tips may help.
- Clean promptly. Try to clean things like spills, cat litter, dirty dishes, or soiled laundry promptly to prevent them from contributing to household odor.
- Remove garbage. Don’t let the trash in your garbage can sit for too long before removing it. Take out the trash right away if you toss anything that has a strong or unpleasant odor.
- Vacuum. Try to vacuum your floors at least once or twice a week.
- Pick up clutter. Cluttered areas around your house can trap dust, mold, and pet dander that can promote household odor.
- Clean bathrooms well. Mold and mildew buildup in showers, tubs, or sinks can contribute to odors in your home.
- Clean your drains. Clogged or dirty drains can contribute to household odor without you even realizing it.
- Monitor produce. Overripe or spoiled produce can cause odors in and around your kitchen. Dispose of any produce on your countertop or in your refrigerator that appears to be going bad.
- Change your HVAC filter. Filters can help remove dust, mold, and pollutants from the air in your home. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends changing your HVAC filter a minimum of every 3 months.
- Help contain scents. Use a garbage can that has a lid. Additionally, make sure that your refrigerator door seals tightly.
- Open your windows. Letting in some fresh air may help remove stale odors.
- Use air freshening products with caution. Although these products may have a pleasant smell, certain air fresheners, scented candles, or diffusers may trigger allergies or asthma in some people.
Nose blindness is a naturally occurring adaptation that makes it hard to detect or distinguish common scents in your surroundings. By blocking out common odors, your nose and brain are better able to detect abnormal or potentially harmful scents.
Because it occurs automatically, nose blindness can’t be completely prevented. However, there are some ways to reduce it. One of the easiest is to leave an area for at least a few minutes and then return to it.
While nose blindness makes it difficult to know what your home smells like, there are many ways to prevent common household odors. Cleaning regularly, changing your HVAC filter, and letting fresh air in can all help prevent common household odors.