Smoking and Our Senses: Smell and Taste

noseWe all know about our five senses and how important they are to perceiving the world around us.  Our senses of smell and taste are closely related, but did you know that smoking and using tobacco can reduce or destroy those senses?

Smelling substances that we perceive as pleasant, such as the scent of garlic wafting from an Italian restaurant, or cookies fresh from the oven or that freshly baked loaf of bread, makes our mouth start to water.  Our previous experience of eating a plate of pasta, or a slice of warm bread may tell us these substances not only smell good, but taste good too.

A patch of cells, called olfactory sensory neurons, high in the nose connect to the brain and signal what you are smelling.  You sense of taste is actually a combination of your taste buds on the tongue and these nerves in your nose working together, enhancing the taste of your food through smell.  These cells in the nose not only signal the good smells, they can also alert us that the smell is dangerous, such as a fire or a gas leak.

Have you ever noticed that smokers don’t seem to be able to smell odors as well as non-smokers?  While everyone around them complains that they smell like an ashtray, the smoker seems unaware of the offensive smell.  That’s because the harmful chemicals in the smoke have caused damage to these nerves in their nose, reducing the ability to work properly, and dulling the senses of the smoker.  They not only lose their sense of smell, but their sense of taste is also diminished.  The loss of smell and taste is gradual and many smokers may not notice that food just doesn’t taste like they remember.

Quitting tobacco not only improves your ability to breathe, it also improves your sense of smell and taste beginning a few days after you quit.  Foods will smell and taste better, which may be one reason why smokers report that they gain weight after giving up smoking.

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