Body & Fitness

Cleaning the house could kill your sense of smell

We always knew that cleaning was tedious, but now you could have a real reason to avoid the housework...

Our ability to smell vastly improves our enjoyment of life – indeed, it’s thought that 90 per cent of our sense of taste is actually down to smell.

Smell is also vital in alerting us to potential danger – such as smoke, for instance, a gas leak or spoiled food.

Our sense of smell is triggered when microscopic particles released by substances such as perfume in the air or freshly ground coffee are breathed up through the nostrils, explains Henry Sharp, an ear, nose and throat surgeon at East Kent Hospitals.

“The cells send an electric signal to an area at the bottom of the brain specifically concerned with smell, known as the olfactory bulb,” he says.

“Smell can also be triggered as we chew food, through the channel that connects the roof of the mouth to the nose.”

Sense of smell is often affected temporarily by a cold because the nasal passages become blocked with excess mucus, and the tissue that lines the nostrils becomes inflamed and swollen.

However, in some cases a loss of smell can persist. Experts stress that most problems can be tackled if caught early.

“If you experience problems for more than six weeks after a cold or flu, or suddenly become aware of problems, it’s important to see your GP,” says George Murty, a consultant ear, nose and throat specialist at the University Hospitals of Leicester.

“They will take a history, check for any obvious blockages and, if necessary, refer you on to a specialist.”

Here, our experts detail some of the possible causes of both a temporary and permanent loss of smell.

Your sense of smell could be affected by too much cleaning.

“Using strong household cleaners, such as bleach, a few times a week in unventilated areas such as a small bathroom can cause the toxic smell to affect the delicate lining and sensory cells in the nose,” says Mr Murty.

“This applies to the serial cleaners among us at home, but is also particularly relevant to those who work in industries that use chemicals such as chlorine, acids or solvents ù or are even surrounded by metal dusts – on a day-to-day basis. Whether the sense of smell returns depends on how long there’s been a problem and how badly the cells have been affected: it can be permanent.”

Nerve damage – or neuropathy, the long-term complication of diabetes – is most commonly associated with pain and numbness or tingling in the hands, legs or feet.

But this damage can also extend in some cases to the sensory nerves in the nose controlling smell. In a recent study at University Hospital Henri Mondor in France, all 68 diabetic patients scored significantly lower in recognising smells than the 30 healthy participants.

With the joy of changing nappies ahead of you, loss of smell during pregnancy may be no bad thing.

“Affecting up to 30 per cent of women during pregnancy, smell loss – usually reduced rather than total – tends to occur during the second and third trimester,” says Mr Murty.

This occurs because the higher amounts of oestrogen during this time lead to increased blood flow in the body (to accommodate for the growing foetus).

“This then causes the tiny blood vessels in the nose lining to swell up, blocking the pathway of any particles going up the nose.”

Ignore a sore tooth at your peril; as well as being painful, it could affect your sense of smell.

“Infection occurs when bacteria spreads inside the teeth or gums, causing a chronic dental infection or, in some cases, a dental abscess,” says Dr Helen Stokes-Lampard, from the Royal College of General Practitioners.

Bacteria can spread into maxillary sinuses, the small, air-filled spaces behind your cheekbones – and can cause inflammation, soreness, fever and a loss of smell.

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