The olfactory system in the human body is responsible for our ability to detect different scents. The major body part of the olfactory system is the nose. The nose has an area of specialized cells which are designed to distinguish different smells. These cells are called the olfactory epithelium and they are very sensitive to the odor molecules that travel through the air. Within the nose there are over 10 million of these specialized cells. Each one is designed to detect different odors. Certain odors will stimulate a variety of these receptors. The signals received from these receptors are sent to the brain which uses the information to identify the smell.
How many scents can humans distinguish?
Scientists have done extensive study on this subject and it is believed that the olfactory system in humans can detect up to 10,000 different odors. However, the ability to smell an odor heavily depends on the strength of the odor. Some everyday scents such as body odor or the smell of the office are less noticeable to people than unexpected odors. The ability to smell a particular odor diminishes over time as you continue to be exposed to it. If the odor is removed and then replaced at a later time the nose will again be sensitive to the odor and the smell will be “stronger” even though it is not actually stronger than it was previously. The ability to smell decreases with age as the olfactory receptors die or become damaged. Older people are less like to smell a faint odor compared to children and teenagers. People who have damaged or missing genes related to olfactory receptors may not be able to smell particular odors.