Our neglected sense of smell
Just follow your nose
If you had to give up one of your senses, you would probably spontaneously decide you could best do without your sense of smell. However, that would be a big mistake, because smell is the only sense that is directly linked to our limbic system and our emotions. But this sense only works if our noses are not blocked.
There is a strong link between poets and thinkers and their noses. The author and journalist Kurt Tucholsky (1890–1935) venerated the nose, and a psychological effect was even named after another writer, Marcel Proust. Although this sense organ is generally underestimated in our daily lives, it is a key gateway to our memories and emotions, and it is addressed in many texts. “A bottle of perfume breaks, (...) releasing a scent that makes the nose remember,” wrote Tucholsky in one of his compositions. “The nose has the best memory of all! It remembers days and even entire lifetimes. People, images of the beach, songs, and verses you had completely forgotten about suddenly come back to you.”
“The nose has the best memory of all! It remembers days and even entire lifetimes.“
If our noses are healthy, our sense of smell works, even though we may not appreciate it or pay it any attention. However, if the nose does not work, as was the case with Tucholsky in the last years of his life, it causes most people to suffer from depression. Tucholsky’s nose was operated on unsuccessfully five times. He suffered from depression because he had difficulty breathing and lacked a sense of smell. Admittedly, a nasal spray would not have cured his organic deficiency. However, such sprays can be of great service to many people who suffer from colds or whose noses are excessively dry because of heated air. To help plagued noses, EMD recently added another medical product to its Nasivin® product line: Nasivin® mentholfrisch Salinspray (Nasivin® menthol-fresh saline spray). This highly concentrated hypertonic saline solution with menthol and dexpanthenol reduces the swelling of the nasal membranes caused by colds.
The sense of smell is unfairly neglected
From its central position, the nose catches the eye and thus affects the perception of the whole face. In addition to being the organ for perceiving smells, the nose also prepares the air we breathe for entry into the deeper respiratory tract by warming, moistening, and purifying it. It thus plays a key role in our perception and our physical and psychological well-being. It even has its own cleaning crew, consisting of cilia that continuously transport a cleaning secretion, along with dirt and bacteria, to the throat.
Nasivin® menthol-fresh saline spray
The olfactory epithelia that are responsible for the sense of smell are located in the upper rear portions of the nasal septum and the central nasal cavity. Human beings have approximately 30 million olfactory cells. There are about 350 different types of these cells, with each one specializing in specific odor components. As we breathe in air, odor molecules reach the mucus of the olfactory epithelia, where they dissolve and are transported to the olfactory cells. Here the matching receptors respond to the odor molecules, causing a biochemical reaction that intensifies the odor molecules’ effect.
This, in turn, triggers an electrical signal that is transmitted by the nerve fibers to the olfactory bulb. From there, the signal is forwarded to the rhinencephalon, which is one of the oldest parts of the brain from an evolutionary perspective. It is then transmitted to the thalamus, which is the control center for sensory perception. The thalamus then relays the signal to other regions of the brain, where the information is processed. In the last step, the piriform cortex of the brain stores the information and compares the odors perceived. The sense of smell is considered the most immediate of the human senses. Unlike the objects of our sight, hearing, and touch, odors directly affect the limbic system in the brain, which processes emotions.
Swollen mucous membranes in the nose prevent odors from reaching the olfactory cells
This complex perception process, which takes place within seconds, can only occur if the nose is moist. That’s because odor molecules can hardly bind to dried-out mucous membranes and so are difficult to transport. The situation is similar when a person has a cold. The swollen mucous membranes and the mucus in the nose prevent contact between the odor molecules and the olfactory cells. If the nasal passages are blocked, the affected person cannot smell anything. Most people consider this limitation to be a serious one. If you do not have a sense of smell, you will also lack a sense of taste and will consequently get less pleasure out of life. Nasal sprays soothe noses that have been dried out by heated air or swollen by colds. The sprays moisten the irritated mucous membranes and reduce the swelling.
Simone Harmanus is a medical marketing expert at EMD
“The hypertonic saline solution of Nasivin® mentholfrisch Salinspray contains three percent salt,” explains Simone Harmanus, a medical marketing expert at EMD. “Its osmotic pressure is therefore higher than that of human cells. This causes it to extract excess moisture from body tissue, and that process reduces the swelling of the mucous membranes.” The nasal spray also contains the provitamin dexpanthenol, which is converted by the body into pantothenic acid and improves the moisture retention capacity of the mucous membranes. “The spray’s menthol content provides an additional shot of freshness, whose cooling effect enables users to breathe easily again,” Harmanus adds.
“Das kleine Buch vom Riechen und Schmecken” by Hanns Hatt and Regine Dee was published by Knaus Verlag
© Knaus Verlag
An open nose is open to the world
Do people really enjoy life more if they can breathe freely? “Scents can actually stimulate or relax us, refresh us or make us happy and excited. However, they can also manipulate us,” writes the world-renowned scent researcher Hanns Hatt, a professor of cell physiology at the Ruhr University in Bochum, in his book Das kleine Buch vom Riechen und Schmecken. “More than anything else, scents are bringers of happiness that surprise us time and again.”
But what makes scents particularly special is their ability to evoke memories, as the quotes from Tucholsky show. Within seconds, the smell of apple pie can give us a feeling of coziness — or perhaps trigger deep-seated fears. This phenomenon is called the “Proust effect” or involuntary memory. It is named after the literary father of scent-induced memories, the French author Marcel Proust. When the protagonist of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time eats a small cake soaked in tea, he experiences an upsurge of childhood memories that have been buried deep within his subconscious.