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You walk into the kitchen, where someone is baking cookies. As you smell the delicious aroma, you’re suddenly transported back to your childhood, when you would help your grandmother with her baking. Smells are a major memory trigger, but why exactly, are they?
How does my sense of smell work?
Substances release molecules that enter your nostrils and stimulate receptors located on the olfactory sensory neurons in the top of the nose. Those neurons send messages to your brain, which identifies the smell.
Smells can also reach the sensory neurons through a channel that connects the top of the throat to the nose. For example, when you chew food, the molecules can stimulate those neurons.
Why does smell trigger memories?
Smell and memory are likely related because of the brain’s structure. The olfactory bulb, which transmits signals from the sensory neurons to the brain, connects directly to the amygdala and hippocampus in our brains. The amygdala is believed to have a key role in processing emotions, while the hippocampus helps you form new memories and is also associated with emotions.
Smell is the only sense that has a direct connection to these sections of the brain. All other sensory input first travels to the thalamus before reaching the memory processing centers. Therefore, smell has a more powerful impact on memory than the other senses.
Not only does smell have a tight relationship with memories, but smelling something can trigger an emotional response related to the memory, without bringing up the memory. For example, someone with post-traumatic stress disorder can have a negative reaction to a smell without remembering the negative experience related to the odor.
“Our sense of smell is the sense most connected to memory,” CEENTA ENT doctor Bobby Silver, MD, said. “Just a small whiff, pleasant or unpleasant, can immediately take us back many years.”
What does it mean for memory if your sense of smell fades?
A diminished sense of smell can often just be a sign that someone is getting older. You may also have a deviated septum, a sinus infection, nasal polyps, a cold, or the flu. However, it can also be a symptom of a memory loss-related condition, like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease.
Can CEENTA help my sense of smell?
If you are concerned with how your nose is functioning, schedule an appointment with a CEENTA doctor. They will have your sense of smell working as best as possible, leaving you with nothing but good memories of your care here.
This blog is for informational purposes only. For specific medical questions, please consult your doctor. Would you like an appointment with Dr. Silver? Call 704-295-3000. You can also schedule an appointment online or through myCEENTAchart.
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