Can Strong Toxic Odors Damage Your Sense of Smell?

By June 19, 2014November 30th, 2018News

For obvious reasons, your sense of smell is much different then the senses of sight and hearing. However, one difference stands: No matter how strong an odor may be from a non-toxic source, your sense of smell will remain unharmed.

This is not true with sight and hearing. A very bright light – like the sun – carries more energy in it than a much dimmer light, and can cause damage to eyes over even a short period of direct exposure (your mother was right about not staring at it …). Very loud sounds, which carry more energy as they get louder, can also negatively impact hearing. But a stronger smell does not mean more energy, and thus carries no risk of damage.

Odor molecules bind to smell receptors in your nose that tell the brain you smell something. But the nose has a saturation point: If a specific non-toxic odor is too strong, the smell receptors are “filled-up,” and the odor will not get any stronger.

For example, if the smell of coffee gets too strong, you stop noticing that the smell is getting stronger because your sense receptors are saturated – no damage is done.

However, this is not the case when it comes to odors from toxic chemicals. When inhaled, these can lead to nasal and respiratory irritation, headaches and nausea. Something about the manner in which odor molecules from toxic sources bind to your scent receptors retards their ability to reach saturation point.

In the textbook Taste and Smell Disorders, the authors Lloyd Hastings and Marian L. Miller write, “Among the many causes leading to decrements in olfactory function, exposure to toxic compounds, especially those airborne, represents a small but important percentage of the cases presenting for evaluation… Exposure to levels of irritants sufficient to alter olfactory function usually occurs only after accidental exposure.”

That is why Fresh Wave IAQ is 100 percent committed to eco-friendly odor management solutions. The solutions contain no harmful VOCs, no fragrances, and no alcohol, making them safe to use in any environment. Toxins that could be harmful to your nose are simply never used.

For many years, it has been common knowledge that toxic odors can be damaging to one’s sense of smell.  However, it is nice to see that third-party experts are validating this information, and we hope that it will help us move judiciously away from the use of toxic chemicals.