Sense of Smell

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Hallucination: when someone thinks they see something that isn't there....more

Neuron: a special cell which is part of the nervous system. Neurons work together with other cells to pass chemical and electrical signals throughout the body... more

When Your Smell Is Not Well

Can all people smell the same? Not exactly. Some people cannot smell things as well, and they have something called hyposmia. People that cannot smell anything at all have a condition called anosmia. These people often think they have lost their sense of taste, but in fact they cannot experience flavors as well because their sense of smell doesn’t work well.

Sometimes, when people have damage to the neurons that detect smells, specific things will smell differently than they used to. Could you imagine if your delicious pizza smelled like your dirty socks instead?

holed used sock

Some people can't smell any smells, whether good or bad. This smelling disorder is called anosmia. Image by Yoshihiro Hirano.

Olfactory hallucinations are when you smell something that is not actually there. How could that happen? Doesn’t an odorant have to enter your nose to smell it? Not always. Because you experience smell with your brain, sometimes feeling certain emotions or just thinking about smells can make you believe it is there. Try it: can you think about a place where you can remember the smell? Maybe it is a field of flowers, a library, or your kitchen at dinnertime. Some people have a lot of olfactory hallucinations when they don’t want to, and this is called phantosmia.

Having a smell disorder is not the end of smelling, for some people. People that have damaged their olfactory bulb can learn to smell again. This is because the olfactory bulb is one of the few places in the human brain that can regenerate its cells. Scientists have found that some treatments, like aromatherapy, can help regenerate the olfactory bulb more quickly.

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Bibliographic details:

  • Article: When Your Smell Is Not Well
  • Author(s): Pierce Hutton, Megan Turnidge
  • Publisher: Arizona State University School of Life Sciences Ask A Biologist
  • Site name: ASU - Ask A Biologist
  • Date published: September 15, 2017
  • Date accessed: April 12, 2024
  • Link:

APA Style

Pierce Hutton, Megan Turnidge. (2017, September 15). When Your Smell Is Not Well. ASU - Ask A Biologist. Retrieved April 12, 2024 from

American Psychological Association. For more info, see

Chicago Manual of Style

Pierce Hutton, Megan Turnidge. "When Your Smell Is Not Well". ASU - Ask A Biologist. 15 September, 2017.

MLA 2017 Style

Pierce Hutton, Megan Turnidge. "When Your Smell Is Not Well". ASU - Ask A Biologist. 15 Sep 2017. ASU - Ask A Biologist, Web. 12 Apr 2024.

Modern Language Association, 7th Ed. For more info, see
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Sometimes you might think having no sense of smell would be a good thing, but it can also be dangerous. What if you don't smell that food has gone bad, or that there is a gas leak, for example?

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