One of the most important, but often neglected, areas of her body contributing to a feeling of well-being is our sense of smell. Multiple scientific studies have shown that fragrances and aromas can trigger a variety of effects on our emotions, ranging from anxiety to calm. Many memories can be triggered by encountering the smell of cooking food “like mom used to make”. Who doesn’t feel good walking into a bakery, especially if chocolate chip cookies have just come out of the oven?
The sense of smell is officially mediated through the olfactory system. The ability to detect and identify scents is sometimes referred to as osmia, and the lack of sense of smell is referred to as anosmia.
Because of Covid-19, there has been a lot in the news and in medical literature about the effects of the virus on the olfactory system. Because so many patients who were infected reported different degrees of anosmia, diminished sense of smell has been considered an early sign of infection with this form of coronavirus. However, in my field it is known that multiple different viral infections, including common cold virus may also cause damage to the olfactory system.
The receptors for fragrances and aromas are nerve endings in the very top of the nasal passage. These arise from nerves which are overall very short and are essentially at the base of the frontal part of the brain. When we breathe in through our nose a small percentage of the air gets to the top. The odors are then detected by these nerve endings and transmit them to the brain where they are recognized.
Most viral infections that cause diminished sense of smell seem to attack the nerve endings themselves. And luckily the majority of the time the effects are temporary. Though Covid–19 has been only studied for less than 1 year, my medical literature already has papers describing the association of infection with this virus and diminished sense of smell. In summary most patients recover olfaction fully, usually in less than 3 months.
Interestingly, research has shown that recovery is faster if steps are taken to stimulate or retrain the sense of smell pathway. Using strong and overall pleasant fragrances such as those from essential oils on a regular daily basis is like beneficial exercise to the nerve pathway from nose to brain.
A protocol for retraining and stimulating the damaged olfactory pathway has been published by ENT specialists from Medical University of South Carolina. You can see their protocol on my website www.tomstarkmd.com. It involves essential oils that are available at many local sources.