Why You Can Smell Other People’s House but Not Yours
When you visit your friend’s house, you can pick the scent of how it smells. But have you ever wondered why you can’t smell your own house? It’s not that your house doesn’t have an odor. Every house carries a certain smell, even the Royal Buckingham Palace, too. Some smell like perfumes, while others may smell like pets or foods, or even mold. You cannot smell your own house because of a common sensory adaptation phenomenon called “nose blindness”!
Nose blindness is also known as “olfactory adaptation,” “olfactory fatigue,” or “odor fatigue.” It causes your brain to let go of certain smells, like the one of your own house! Not being able to smell your body odor or your regular perfume is also an example of olfactory adaptation or nose blindness.
Why can you smell the houses of others but not yours?
When you first encounter a new smell, the aerosols (odorant molecules) pass through your nose and land on your odor-sensing receptors. The odor-sensing receptors send neural signals to the olfactory bulb inside your brain’s limbic system. The limbic system is responsible for emotional and behavioral responses, hence capable of identifying the odor.
Your brain then decides what to do about the smell. If your brain perceives it to be non-threatening, the odor-sensing receptors start to turn off, and the intensity of the smell begins to fade as it doesn’t need close attention. This, however, happens very quickly, within a couple of breaths.
Apparently, there’s no plausible explanation as to why this happened. But the scientists assume that ignoring certain smells allows your brain to be more attentive towards the changes in odors in your proximity. It enables the brain to identify potential threats.
Moreover, constantly noticing every smell in your surroundings can cause over-stimulation of your senses. Therefore, olfactory adaptation decreases the capability of picking up familiar smells and increases the ability to sense the smells that require your attention. That’s why you can quickly identify a gas leak but cannot sense the smell of your perfume.
How common is nose blindness?
Although it’s useful not to smell the scent of your own house, is there a need to worry about nose blindness? Surprisingly, everyone is nose-blind to some extent. That means even if you are the quickest to pick a smell in your group of friends, you still can’t probably tell how your house smells. However, it may be an alarming sign if you cannot pick a smell that most people in your surroundings can or vice versa. It may indicate a medical condition or an infection in your sinus. So, as long as you are not too sensitive or extremely unresponsive about smells, there’s nothing to worry about!
Can you get rid of nose blindness?
Nose blindness is a common phenomenon, and there’s no way you can permanently get over it. However, there are a few natural ways for you to get rid of nose blindness temporarily. You can try staying out of your house more often than usual, such as taking long strolls, spending more time in the gym, or simply enjoying your yard. Upon re-entering your house, you will surprisingly find that your ability to smell your house gets re-sensitized for a little while.
Exercising can also temporarily improve your sense of smell with increased blood flow. You can try a headstand or quickly running up and down the stairs to get the blood flowing and temporarily agitate your smelling senses.
Interestingly, the easiest way to train your brain to notice the smell you usually ignore is to worry about the smell. That’s right! Your brain can turn on the sensory receptors for a particular smell if you stress or worry enough about it. However, the smell will fade away as soon as you lose focus.
There are other reasons why you can smell the houses of others but not yours.
Your nose is much more mysterious than you think. While your nose gets accustomed enough to certain smells to ignore them, the following are some medical phenomena that can lead your nose to behave erratically.
Olfactory hallucination or phantosmia is when your nose plays tricks on you, and you experience smells that are not actually present around you. Upper respiratory induction, a head injury, an inflamed sinus, brain tumors, etc., can cause you to smell phantom smells. There also have been reports of phantosmia from COVID-19 infection. Usually, phantosmia is not something to worry about. However, it can be a sign of an underlying medical condition if it does not clear itself in a couple of days. In such a case, you should consider seeing a doctor.
Parosmia is a medical condition when your brain cannot perceive smells correctly, i.e., you experience a distorted sense of smell. It usually happens when olfactory receptors inside your nose fail to detect odors correctly and send faulty signals to your brain. For example, you smell a watermelon, and instead of its fruity scent, you experience a foul smell like a rotting tomato. Colds, head injuries, drugs, sinus infections, etc., can cause parosmia. You may also have trouble detecting smells due to smoking, exposure to chemicals, side effects of chemotherapy, etc.
3 Hyposmia and Anosmia
Hyposmia is a medical condition where your capability to identify smells is reduced. You may not feel the actual intensity of an odor if you have hyposmia. Whereas with anosmia, you entirely lose your ability to smell. Certain allergies, head injuries, flu, etc., can lead to hyposmia and anosmia. In some rare cases, people have been reported to have had anosmia since birth!
If you experience overwhelming sensitivity towards the smell, you may be experiencing hyperosmia. People with a heightened sense of smell, i.e., hyperosmia, are also referred to as “super-smellers.” Pregnancy, sclerosis, epilepsy, psychiatric conditions, etc., can be responsible for hyperosmia.
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