Using your Senses

Industry Matters Newsletter
Frankie Wood-Black
Frankie Wood-Black

When we start to cross a street, we know to look and listen.  We have been constantly reminded that we need to observe our surroundings and listen for alarms.  Another one of your senses that is just as important, and we don’t typically think about it until it is compromised.  This past year, one of the first symptoms, and sometimes the only symptom that a person has related to the COVID-19 virus, is a loss of the sense of smell.  Until it is lost, we don’t think about how integral it is to our wellbeing.

Sure, the sense of smell enhances our enjoyment of food and our surroundings, but it can also be critical to our survival.  Think for a moment, how do you know that milk is safe to drink?  Or, whether or not those leftovers are safe?  Is that egg rotten?  Usually, it is our sense of smell that gives us that first indication.  Now that the weather is turning, we rely on our sense of smell to ensure that the furnace is working correctly. Or, it helps us to ensure that there are no leaks in the connections to the natural gas or propane, thanks to the addition of an odorant.

Smell can alert us to the potential for fire, or to the presence of a harmful agent, such as hydrogen sulfide. But, we also are aware that our sense of smell can be overwhelmed, as in the case of hydrogen sulfide, which is an even greater danger.  And, there are harmful substances we can’t smell such as carbon monoxide or natural gas, without the presence of the additional odorant.  Losing our sense of smell is a safety concern.

It is common to temporarily lose your sense of smell to a cold, the flu, allergies, or sinusitis.  Your sense of smell can also diminish with age.  And, some people are more sensitive to some smells than others. But, for those either temporarily experiencing a loss of smell or living with a more chronic condition, here are few tips from the “Fifth Sense,” an organization in the UK. 

  • Alert those around you (at work or at home) to help you identify odors related to potential hazards.
  • Make sure you get your gas appliances checked.
  • Pay attention to “use-by” dates

Hopefully, it is just a temporary condition, and your sense of smell will return so that you can go out and smell the roses!

This article has been edited for length and clarity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the view of their employer or the American Chemical Society.

Copyright 2022 American Chemical Society (All Rights Reserved)

Related Content