The Sweet Smell of Pain Relief

by Hayzell

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Next time you’re feeling pain, give yourself a dose of sweet smells. Your sense of smell is very closely linked to emotions and memory, and can also be recruited to help you fight pain. According to research done at James Cook University in Australia, sweet smells seem to help people tolerate pain.

Study participants were given masks with three types of smell: sweet caramel, a pleasant aftershave, and an unpleasant civet musk. Then the participants were instructed to keep their hands in icy water for as long as they could before the cold-induced pain became intolerable.

Amazingly, people were able to keep their hands in water twice as long when they smelled sweet caramel. The amount of pain people felt did not change, but a sweet smell made it more tolerable. Neither the pleasant aftershave nor unpleasant civet musk had the same effect. Although more research needs to be done, it might help to wear a caramel or some other sugary sweet perfume during a flare-up day.

Smells can help you in other ways as well, such as make you sleep better. Research by Professor Charles Spence from the University of Oxford has found that smells have a powerful effect on the emotion centers in our brains. According to Spence, a scented bedroom can significantly improve the quality and duration sleep. This is good news to people whose sleep is often disturbed by pain.

All this talk about sweet smells makes me want to perfume my kitchen with the smell of freshly baked cookies! Who knew pain-relief would smell so good?


  • Prescott, J., & Wilkie, J. (2007). Pain Tolerance Selectively Increased by a Sweet-Smelling Odor. Psychological Science, 18 (4), 308-311 DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2007.01894.x

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