Smell is one sense that we often take for granted. It’s been with us since birth, we use it all the time, we develop the ability to detect the subtle nuances between similar fragrances, but rarely do we think much about it. We learn to actively appreciate our other senses, but we usually take for granted our sense of smell.
In the past, scientists and common folk alike thought that smell was “the most dispensable” of senses. Even Charles Darwin considered smell to be “of extremely slight service to humans.”
It’s often thought that humans, as opposed to animals such as our pets, are bad at smelling. However, no one can dispute that humans have a better sense of smell than we think. I can tell if “rain is in the air” and can detect the scent of freshly cut grass, even if that task was done hours before.
I think we simply don’t think much about smell and rely on our other senses of sight and hearing to better determine what’s happening around us. And, even though science tells us that smell plays a large role in how we perceive the taste of food, we talk much more about how our meals taste rather than the appetizing smell of them.
Scientific studies in this century punch holes in the idea that humans are not good at smelling. Studies indicate that human brains can tell the difference between exercise sweat and the sweat from fear. We may not be better than dogs at sniffing out the scent of someone on a trail, but spouses are good at detecting if their partner wore a piece of clothing instead of a stranger.
Research shows that humans simply don’t rely on scent to guide them through life like our pets and other animals often do. Additionally, as we age, we lose our smell acuity, but most older adults don’t seem to notice. We’re fitted for glasses when we can’t see as well as before or use a hearing aid when we can’t hear as well. However, we don’t notice if we can’t smell things as well as we used to—until we realize that we can no longer smell things at all.
They say that you never know what you’ve lost until it’s gone. That’s what so many people who have had COVID-19 say—that they never appreciated their sense of smell until they could no longer smell.
Fortunately, I have not had COVID-19, and my sense of smell is intact; but reading articles about those who have lost this sense makes me appreciate taking in a deep breath and experiencing all the scents that my surroundings have to offer.
Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!