(redirected from Olfactory sense)
Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Encyclopedia.


the sense that enables one to perceive odors; it depends on the stimulation of sense organs in the nose by small particles carried in inhaled air. It is important not only for the detection of odors, but also for the enjoyment of food, since flavor is a blend of taste and smell. Taste registers only four qualities: salt, sour, bitter, and sweet; other qualities of flavor depend on smell. Called also olfaction.

The organs of smell are small patches of special cells (olfactory cells) in the nasal mucosa. One patch is located in each of the two main compartments of the back of the nose. The olfactory cells are connected to the brain by the first cranial nerve (olfactory nerve). Air currents do not flow directly over the patches in breathing; this is why one must sniff to detect a faint odor or to enjoy a fragrance to the fullest.

When one sniffs, air currents carrying molecules of odorous chemicals enter special compartments, called olfactory chambers, where the chemicals are dissolved in mucus. There they can act on the organs of smell in much the same way that solutions act on the taste buds of the tongue. The endings of the sensory nerves that detect odors, the olfactory receptors, can quickly adapt to an odor and cease to be stimulated by it after a few minutes of full exposure.

The sense of smell may be diminished or lost entirely, usually temporarily, as a result of an obstruction of the nose, nasal infection, injury or deterioration of the nasal tissue, brain tumor, or mental illness. In rare instances, injury or disease causes such damage to the olfactory nerve that loss of the sense of smell is permanent. Complete absence of the sense of smell is known as anosmia.
Miller-Keane Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing, and Allied Health, Seventh Edition. © 2003 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc. All rights reserved.


1. The sense of smell.
2. The act of smelling.
Synonym(s): osmesis, osphresis
[L. ol- facio, pp. -factus, to smell]
Farlex Partner Medical Dictionary © Farlex 2012


(ŏl-făk′shən, ōl-)
1. The sense of smell.
2. The act or process of smelling.
The American Heritage® Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2007, 2004 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.


1. The sense of smell.
Synonym(s): smell (2) .
2. The act of smelling.
Synonym(s): osphresis.
[L. ol-facio, pp. -factus, to smell]
Medical Dictionary for the Health Professions and Nursing © Farlex 2012


The sense of smell or the act of smelling.
Collins Dictionary of Medicine © Robert M. Youngson 2004, 2005


the sense of smell, in which there is chemoreception of molecules suspended in the air.
Collins Dictionary of Biology, 3rd ed. © W. G. Hale, V. A. Saunders, J. P. Margham 2005


1. Sense of smell.
2. Act of smelling.
[L. ol-facio, pp. -factus, to smell]
Medical Dictionary for the Dental Professions © Farlex 2012

Patient discussion about olfaction

Q. I have a very acute sense of smell. Most things that have a smell cause me to have Migraines every day. I have heard that a chiropractor is who I need to treat me for this problem. Anyone else here have this problem? What have you done and were you able to treat it?

A. I can't remember where I heard about the chiropractor's involvement but it is really unpleasant. I tend to make life unpleasant for others to, just not to have a migraine. Things like cooking popcorn, perfumes, trash and many other things will give me a migraine (not a headache) right away. It may be called Hyperosmia (abnormal sense of smell).

Q. MY friends body is leaking and he smells awful. He also has a skin rash. He stinks.Can I help him.He is big. smokes too much,and does shower but he still smells. I need to get him in a chairty hospital. If ignored what will happened. Thank You Bettye

A. HI betty,thank god he has a friend like you--I dont like saying this but,your friend is killing himself,and the sooner you try to get him into a hospital the better--it not going to be easy-but you can only try.At this point he is at risk of LUNG CANCER--A VERY BAD INFECTION--AND CARDIAC ARREST,because of his weight,eating is an addiction,and people die from it,also people die from respiratory arrest because of his weight--stay strong--mrfoot56

More discussions about olfaction
This content is provided by iMedix and is subject to iMedix Terms. The Questions and Answers are not endorsed or recommended and are made available by patients, not doctors.
References in periodicals archive ?
TEHRAN (FNA)- Researchers have, for the first time, detected cancer cells using the olfactory senses of fruit flies.
As an example of a poorly designed experiment, Shodell (2010) describes and analyzes experiments by scientists of the 1660s who were attempting to discover, by their olfactory senses, whether glass and crystal could be penetrated by pungent odors such as that of horse urine.
To determine sensory modalities that are crucial for spatial learning, we cut the olfactory tract to deprive the fish of olfactory senses or we performed eye enucleation to deprive them of visual senses.
Lyall brings together a fascinating array of ideas on our olfactory sense from various disciplines such as anatomy, botany, biochemistry, history, behavioral science, and even autobiography (there are few more eloquent self-reports on the olfactory sense than Helen Keller's), thus offering an impressive example of a topic whose mysteries can only be solved by joining hands.
This approach is also suggested for the other senses, though it is not easy in practice to determine how many dimensions they have, nor how the dimensions are to be understood - for instance, what analogues of hue, brightness, and saturation might exist for the olfactory sense.
"Interestingly, this flower has a lot to do with the concept of Coming Home.' You know you are home when its distinct sweet and aromatic fragrance tickles your olfactory sense.
The authors argue that if the brain has plasticity, and the auditory channel uses some of the visual cortex in people who are blind, as has been discovered, then it may be that the olfactory sense is also processed in different locations in the brains of people with vision loss.
He said it can enhance the olfactory sense and also enhance sexual potency by dilating blood vessels.
My olfactory sense was alerted while pregnant but stayed on guard ("Women whiff men in sniff proficiency," SN: 2/16/02, p.
Within two years they ceased the practice since these recruits could not adapt to simple common sense and their decision-making process involved theories other than simply applying their "olfactory sense" in recognizing and seizing real opportunity.
The human olfactory sense can detect oil in water as diluted as one part per million (ppm).