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Re-discovering a Sensory World: The Smell and Taste of Quitting

Date Posted: September 9, 2011

While you may not notice how much tobacco smoke dulls your senses it usually becomes noticeable once you quit. Smoking may be the cause of numerous types of cancers, cardiovascular diseases and a myriad of other smoke related health risks, however very few smokers are aware of how much smoking significantly impairs both the sense  of smell and taste.

Smokers undergo changes to their sensory modalities with a diminished ability to taste certain foods or flavors. When smell and taste become impaired, we eat poorly, socialize less, and feel worse. These senses warn us of dangers, such as fire, poisonous fumes, and spoiled food but problems with them can also have a big impact on our lives. Smell and taste contribute to our enjoyment of life by stimulating a desire to eat – which not only nourishes our bodies, but also enhances our social and psychological activities.

When smoking, the taste buds are put in direct contact with chemical compounds found tobacco smoke that tend to blunt the ability of the buds to register the four basic tastes that the system is designed to recognize:  salty, sweet, sour and bitter tastes.  While the blunting chemicals do not completely destroy the ability of the taste buds to recognize the four basic tastes, the degree of recognition is significantly decreased.

At the same time, smokers also inhale and exhale cigarette smoke through both nose and mouth. The chemicals in cigarette smoke dull the ability of olfactory nerves to register the aromas of foods. Since the sense of taste is actually a combination of both taste and smell, smoking tends to impair it by interfering with both forms of sensory recognition and damaging mucous membranes.

Fortunately, quitting smoking leads to a very rapid reversal of the blunting effects smoking has on taste and smell, with quitters first noticing an increased ability to taste and smell within just 48 hours unlike many other secondary effects of smoking which can last years.  This is good news because you’re going to feel like you are re-discovering a sensory world.

While your sensory modalities recover, you’ll experience a change in how nearly everything tastes. This means that flavor preferences you had while you were a smoker may drastically change, and will continue evolve for several weeks to months at a fast pace. Since senses are dulled, many smokers favor intensely flavored foods and stronger scents.  As the senses sharpen, more subtle foods and scents may become preferable and former favorites may become hard to stand. This also holds true when it comes to the smell of cigarette smoke and is a natural process of re gaining the senses.

Although it will take long years to reverse most of the effects of smoking, it will take only days to recover your sense of taste and smell. But the first step to recovery is quitting smoking. While it’s easier said than done, the benefits of being smoke free far outweigh the difficulties of quitting.

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