Sep 06, 2022

How to conquer bad smells in the workplace

The heartwarming highs of aged care and nursing are sometimes paired with the challenging lows of dealing with bad smells. 

Whether it’s from vomit, urine, poo, or something else altogether, those bad odours are unavoidable in messy and confronting professions like nursing and aged care.

Sometimes those odours can feel like a slap in the face too, and that’s okay.

To find the best solutions for blocking strong odours, expert advice always helps. 

HelloCare spoke to Doctor Rodrigo Suarez, a senior lecturer at the University of Queensland’s School of Biomedical Sciences, to see if there was a genuine way to block out bad smells at work.

“An understanding of sensory anatomy, together with informed and compassionate attitudes as well as exploiting behavioural techniques can have a big impact on handling situations that involve smells,” Dr Suarez said.  

“Importantly, this applies not only to the bad smells but also the good ones, as they can all help us ensure our wellbeing.”

Why do bad smells affect us?

Before focusing on solutions, it helps to know how noses work behind the scenes.

“At the roof of the nasal cavity there’s a type of sensory cells called olfactory neurons that each have a unique type of receptor proteins that can bind to small volatile molecules inhaled through the nose,” Dr Suarez explained.

“Olfactory neurons make connections with a part of our brain known as the olfactory bulb, which in turn is connected with areas of the brain involved in creating an olfactory ‘percept’.

“Other connections of the olfactory bulb include areas involved in memories and in processing emotions, which explain why we may remember past experiences or emotions with certain smells.”

Evolution has also played a role in how our brains react, as the human brain is hardwired to hold positive or negative associations with certain scents.

You have also likely experienced the sensation of tasting a smell. Sadly, that’s why breathing through your mouth may not help when entering a room with a nasty funk.

“The sense of taste is slightly different, however, volatiles taken by the mouth can also stimulate olfactory neurons in the roof of the nose,” Dr Suarez said.

“Mouth breathing techniques don’t always work for everyone, as you might get retronasal olfaction and also stimulate other types of receptors in the mouth/throat area that can trigger gag reflexes or even stronger emotional/subjective experiences.” 

Thankfully, you should become accustomed to confronting scents with consistent exposure.

Tips for dealing with bad smells

Using other scents to mask an odour is easily your best option, and Dr Suarez says essential oils, gum or menthol rub will do the trick. 

“Knowing what to expect about the environment you’re entering helps, as does caring about personal and household hygiene or using scented cleaning products,” Dr Suarez said. 

“Other ‘maskers’ of smell such as menthol rub under the nose or chew strong-mint gum always help.

“Even developing mindful strategies of controlled breathing rhythms, taking breaks, checking for ventilation and avoiding behaviours that might trigger reflexes will all help.”

The strongest masking scents include lavender, eucalyptus, myrtle, peppermint, citrus or tea tree. A dab of oil on the wrists or under the nose can negate troublesome odours.

Chewing gum is also sure to pack an extra punch if you’re wearing a face mask as the minty molecules have nowhere to go when breathing out.

There’s no harm in trial and error, either. Ask your colleagues or friends and try a few different tricks to find what works best for you when faced with bad smells in the workplace. 

What are your tricks to dealing with bad smells? Tell us in the comments below.

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