What comes to mind when you think about an odor or smell?
Something specific, either pleasant or unpleasant?
Have you ever wondered what is going on when you notice an odor, and why is it important to understand? We’re going to get a little geeky here, so stay with me.
What Causes Odors?
Odors are scent particles created when a substance releases molecules into the air. Think of the scent dogs used to find missing persons or detect illegal substances.
Dogs are a little different in that they have more than 100 million sensory receptor sites in the nasal cavity versus the six million receptor sites in humans. Also, the canine area of the brain devoted to analyzing odors is about 40 times larger than the corresponding region in the human brain. Still, the principle is the same.
The more volatile a substance is, the stronger it will smell. For example, gasoline is extremely volatile, and therefore you can easily smell it. What is happening is that the substance is releasing molecules, or particles, into the air, in all directions. The smell can be pleasant or unpleasant.
This is how an air-scent dog follows a missing person’s trail, with its nose up to detect the scent carried in the air currents.
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How Do We Detect Odors?
Both canines and humans detect smells by inhaling air that contains these scent molecules, which then bind to olfactory receptors inside the nose and relay messages to the brain.
Interestingly, the smell-detection pathway in our brains also connects to the amygdala and hippocampus, areas that connect with emotion and memory. This is why we can have such strong memories tied to certain smells.
Olfactory receptors are located not only in the nose but also throughout the entire body. Think about it because here’s where it gets interesting.
Why Is This Important?
When you smell something, the molecules that make up that odor have already entered your body. If what you are detecting is a delicious, natural smell, all is good. Enjoy it.
But what about smells like musty, gasoline, chemical fragrances, you name it? Again, those are scent particles from a volatile substance that are now taking up residence in your body.
What Can You Do About It?
Attack the source of the smell. If you notice a bad odor in your laundry room, it’s likely mold or mildew you’re smelling. That means spores are being released into the air, and you – and your loved ones – are breathing them in.
How can you eliminate the source? Not with odor-covering air fresheners that contain harmful chemicals, now that you know those chemicals will also enter your body.
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