How Losing Your Smell Impacts Relationships More Than We Realize

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Up to 80% of people with COVID-19 reported this sensory disturbance and around 1 in 4 people with COVID-19 report that loss of smell is the first symptom they experience. How does this symptom impact humans and their relationships if it lasts long term?

Our sense of smell is incredibly powerful. It actually accesses our awareness directly through the limbic system; the ‘primitive” part of the brain. 

We have more olfactory receptors in our bodies than any other protein.

Our body has the ability to chemically detect pheromones and sniff out complementary immune system‘s to our own. 

In fact, a woman’s sense of smell is heightened at the peak of fertility, at the time of ovulation, to help facilitate mate selection.

In the YouTube video below, this woman reports that “biological scent is like a fingerprint… no two are the same. That’s why dogs can stiff something of yours and then find you, without confusing you with your neighbor.”

Also, certain smells of our partners can actually become integrated into emotional memories we have of them.

Have you ever encountered an item that smells like your partner that triggers a pleasant feeling or wave of nostalgia? Since people have cherished memories of different smells — a cologne associated with a loved one, for instance, or the fragrance of freshly cut grass in the garden of a childhood home — some people

who lose their sense of smell felt that they had lost critical connections with people and places.)

What we smell helps us communicate and interpret emotions in our relationships.

“In experiments, volunteers who sniffed sweat samples from people experiencing certain feelings, such as fear or disgust, felt those emotions themselves. When volunteers smelled the odor of disgusted people, their lips curled just as they do when smelling something disgusting,” Dalton reported from the data. Researchers refer to this as “emotional contagion.” If it’s disabled, a person may have more difficulty  relating to others.“When you do not have a sense of smell, there is a whole level of communication that you are missing,” says Dalton.

Researchers in the United Kingdom surveyed almost 500 people with anosmia (the loss of sense of smell) which resulted in more than 50 percent of them reported feelings of isolation and blamed their relationship troubles on their affliction. “I worry I will never be able to share again properly in my social and sexual life—I feel like I am an observer,” “It has reduced my desire,” said another. “So much of sexual closeness is wrapped up in smell: It’s how you know who you are with when the lights are off.”

Previous research has shown that people who can’t smell also report high rates of depression, anxiety, isolation and relationship issues.

The loss of smell may stop people from enjoying meals, increase discomfort in social situations (as a result of not being able to self monitor for hygiene related odors), and influence appetite changes and weight. 

2016 review of the existing research on anosmia and depression highlighted the connection between depression and anosmia. People with depression are more likely to have problems with a sense of smell than healthy controls, and people with anosmia are more likely to have symptoms of depression. And the greater the loss of smell the more severe the depressive symptoms.

“One really big problem was around hazard perception — not being able to smell food that had gone off, or not being able to smell gas or smoke. This had resulted in serious near misses for some.” 

What can we do?

1. Continue social distancing to prevent spread and decrease the risk of losing smell/taste. 

2. Certain scents have also been found to improve mood and ease depression. Essential oils that support healthy moods include lavender, chamomile, rose oil, lemon, and jasmine.

3. discuss this  with your doctor and therapist If you notice a change in your sense of smell. 

4. Discuss this with your loved ones you trust and them know how this impacts you. Communicate your needs and feelings related to the transition  and how they can best support you.

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