Can strong smells damage the olfactory receptors?

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Curiosity Science Chemistry Can strong smells damage the olfactory receptors?

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  • This is a follow up question to this. If smell is concentration of chemicals, could a very high concentration of these chemical compounds destroy olfactory receptors in our nose (like loud noises, causing ringing noises)?

  • Interesting question!

    This can occur only in certain cases where the chemical concentration is so volatile enough to cause some irritating sensations in your nasal canal. In most of the cases, the strong odors will simply turn off the olfactory sensors by saturating it until it cuts off signals to brain. But there are strong odorous compounds that will not only inhibit your sense of smell, but also cause several physical trauma. Beyond 10ppm, Hydrogen sulfide is one such toxic gas that will inhibit the sense of smell at first and target your nervous system totally. Anhydrous acetic acids, ammonia, the infamous Selenophenol are some other stuffs that would do a considerable damage in you.

    • Thioacetone. This is so far the smelliest chemical the humans have ever encountered. Read this.

      Two of our chemists who had done no more than investigate the cracking of minute amounts of trithioacetone found themselves the object of hostile stares in a restaurant and suffered the humiliation of having a waitress spray the area around them with a deodorant. The odours defied the expected effects of dilution since workers in the laboratory did not find the odours intolerable … and genuinely denied responsibility since they were working in closed systems. To convince them otherwise, they were dispersed with other observers around the laboratory, at distances up to a quarter of a mile, and one drop of either acetone gem-dithiol or the mother liquors from crude trithioacetone crystallisations were placed on a watch glass in a fume cupboard. The odour was detected downwind in seconds.

    • Yes, I have read about this. Thioacetone is famously known for shutting down an entire city long time ago.


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