Olfactory System

Olfactory System: Your nose is the way

Have you ever heard the phrase “olfactory system“? Have you ever wondered why we have the ability to smell the things going on around us? Like the perfume that you put on and think smells really good or the fresh baked batch of muffins in the oven at home? Our olfactory system (the process of smelling) is the reason our sense of smell and smelling the goodness and not so good smelling scents all around us. Without our olfactory system, we’d have a non-smelling environment, which wouldn’t be so pleasant after all.

The main structure that comprises of this system is our nose. It also plays a big part not only in smelling but also in tasting things. Our respiratory system also needs to nose to obtain the air around us that keeps our body breathing. Our oral health also plays an important role in this system because air can also go in and out of our mouth. Although our nose is always right in the middle of our face, we don’t know too much about it. The most common piece of knowledge that we have in our minds is that it’s important for smelling, tasting and breathing. But did you know that it goes way deeper than that? Let’s proceed on and talk about what keeps our nose smelling.

When we look at our nose in the mirror, we see it located right in the middle of our face. It comes in all shapes and sizes depending on what your parent’s nose looked like. On our nose, there are two holes on both sides called “nostrils.” This is primarily where the air goes through and if you peak inside, you can see a dark pathway with little hairs called “cilia.” At the back of our nose, we have a “nasal cavity” that connects to the back of the throat. That is why when we’re sick and have phlegm stuck in our nose and we try to breathe it in, it sometimes goes to the back of our throat where some people either swallow it or spit it out. Sounds disturbing, but it does happen. That’s also another reason why our oral health is important to this system because they are all connected to one another. The palate or roof of our mouth is the separation between the inside of our mouth and inside of our nose.

Olfactory systemThe process of breathing for our olfactory system begins at our nose. When we inhale air through our nostrils, the air enters and passes through our nasal cavity. We have a structure called “trachea” or also termed as “windpipe” where the air passes through it and goes to the lungs. Our nose is also the passageway for old air to be expelled out of the body from our lungs. You can think of the nose as a filter, warmer and moistener of the air before it goes through the nasal cavity, windpipe and finally into the lungs. Like our oral cavity, our nose also has thin tissue called “mucous membrane” that is its lining. This membrane is responsible for warming the air that passes through because our cavity and lungs can’t handle extremes in temperatures, so our membrane does the work of moistening the air so it’s perfect in temperature.

This membrane is also the reason why we have this greenish to greyish sticky substance inside our nose. We usually call this “snot” or “boogers.” This mucus contains germs and bacteria that enters our nose and shouldn’t be distributed inside the body. It is a shield for protection against foreign invaders that want to get inside. The “cilia” or tiny hairs inside are also very important in filtering the substances that can irritate our lungs. Sneezing is also a process of our olfactory system to getting rid of foreign matters away from our lungs but in a much faster process, ranging at least 100 miles per hour. Now that’s fast!!

This system helps us smell what’s happening around us. Just like our eyes, our nose also sends signals to our brain for it to be interpreted into a concrete image so we know what exactly we smell. Right behind our nose just above our nasal cavity, we have a structure called “olfactory epithelium” which contains special receptors that sense odor molecules that travel through the air we breathe in.

There are at least 10 million receptors inside our nose that helps us in receiving molecules. There are hundreds of various odor receptors that have the ability to sense odor molecules. When these receptors are stimulated by odor molecules, the nerve signals travels along the olfactory nerve and into the “olfactory bulb.” This structure is underneath the anterior portion of our brain and it sends it to the brain for it to be interpreted. That is the reason you can call what smells smell good and what aren’t so pleasant in smell. Such as dirty gym socks to a sweet perfume fragrance.

Smell is very important in telling you what’s going on in your environment. Let’s take for instance this situation; once you start smelling something burning inside the house, you immediately know that this could be an emergency situation because it could be a start of a fire. Your olfactory system sends signals to the brain and your brain deciphers it to the mental and concrete image that it really is before actually seeing the situation.

In the first part of the article we mentioned that our nose is also responsible for tasting which contributes greatly to our oral health also. But isn’t that the tongue that is responsible for that aspect of recognizing? Well, both play a vital role in recognizing tastes. Just think of a warm batch of yummy smelling cookies in the oven. You first get a whiff of the warm and chocolate-filled smell before actually tasting it. Smell and taste, combined together play a big part in allowing us to taste.

With those various important functions of our olfactory system, it would be a shame not taking care of it because it is that crucial in our everyday lives. Here are a few ways to keep it healthy;

  • Try to avoid offensive or toxic odors because prolonged exposure to those smells can cause damage this system. That means staying away from gaseous and strong chemical smells.
  • Going on a walk in an area with no pollution is a great way to enhance your olfactory system.
  • Eat foods with zinc or take zinc supplements because zinc deficiency decreases the sense of smell.
  • Avoid smoking and drinking alcohol, because too much of anything isn’t any good for our healthy. Tone it down to occasional events but better yet don’t do it at all.

Preventing ailments in this system is the best way to go! Try out natural remedies if ever you already have symptoms but olfactory system ailments. If your condition is just starting, there are several natural remedies to try out to lessen those symptoms and get back to 100% olfactory system health.

Take a deep breathe in and a deep breathe out, we have this system to thank for that ability. Enjoy the scents around you by making sure you do what’s best for your nose and your entire body. It is vital throughout everything you do in your life so make sure you keep it healthy for all your body systems especially your olfactory system!