Five [PLUS] Senses Working Overtime. Are You Tuned In…?

Today is Celebration of the Senses Day – a time to consider your amazing sensory abilities and how they interrelate. We all learn as children humans have five basic senses: touch, sight, hearing, smell and taste. Science has done a fantastic job describing the organs associated with each, how they send information to the brain to help us understand and perceive the world around us, and has gone even further to uncover how they uniquely cross-talk for heightened awareness.

Touch

Touch is thought to be the first sense humans develop, according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Touch consists of several distinct sensations communicated to the brain through specialized neurons in the skin. Pressure, temperature, light touch, vibration, pain and other sensations are all part of the touch sense and are all attributed to different receptors in the skin.

Touch isn’t just a sense used to interact with the world; it also seems to be very important to a human’s well-being. For example, touch has been found to convey compassion from one human to another.

Touch can also influence how humans make decisions. Texture can be associated with abstract concepts, and touching something with a texture can influence the decisions a person makes, according to six studies by psychologists at Harvard University and Yale University, published in the June 24, 2010, issue of the journal Science.

“Those tactile sensations are not just changing general orientation or putting people in a good mood,” said Joshua Ackerman, an assistant professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “They have a specific tie to certain abstract meanings.”

Sight

Sight, or perceiving things through the eyes, is a complex process. First, light reflects off an object to the eye. The transparent outer layer of the eye – the cornea – bends the light that passes through the hole of the pupil. The iris (the colored part of the eye) works like the shutter of a camera, retracting to shut out light or opening wider to let in more light.

The cornea focuses most of the light. Then, it passes through the lens, which continues to focus the light.  The lens of the eye then bends the light and focuses it on the retina, which is full of nerve cells. These cells are shaped like rods and cones and are named for their shapes. Cones translate light into colors, central vision and details. The rods translate light into peripheral vision and motion. Rods also give humans vision when there is limited light available, like at night. The information translated from the light is sent as electrical impulses to the brain through the optic nerve.

People without sight may compensate with enhanced hearing, taste, touch and smell, according to numerous studies. Their memory and language skills may be better than those with sight, as well.

“Even in the case of being profoundly blind, the brain rewires itself in a manner to use the information at its disposal so that it can interact with the environment in a more effective manner.”  That’s according to Dr. Lotfi Merabet, senior author of a 2017 study and the director of the Laboratory for Visual Neuroplasticity at Schepens Eye Research Institute of Massachusetts Eye and Ear.

Hearing

This sense works via the complex labyrinth that is the human ear. Sound is funneled through the external ear and piped into the external auditory canal. Then, sound waves reach the tympanic membrane, or eardrum. This is a thin sheet of connective tissue that vibrates when sound waves strike it.

The vibrations travel to the middle ear. There, auditory ossicles — three tiny bones called the malleus (hammer), incus (anvil) and stapes (stirrup) — vibrate. The stapes bone, in turn, pushes a structure called the oval window in and out, sending vibrations to the organ of Corti.  This spiral organ is the receptor organ for hearing. Tiny hair cells in the organ of Corti translate the vibrations into electrical impulses. The impulses then travel to the brain via sensory nerves.

People retain their sense of balance because the Eustachian tube, or pharyngotympanic tube, in the middle ear equalizes the air pressure there with the air pressure in the atmosphere. The vestibular complex, in the inner ear, is also important for balance, because it contains receptors that regulate a sense of equilibrium. The inner ear is connected to the vestibulocochlear nerve, which carries sound and equilibrium information to the brain.

Smell

Humans may be able to smell over 1 trillion scents, according to researchers. They do this with the olfactory cleft, which is found on the roof of the nasal cavity, next to the “smelling” part of the brain – the olfactory bulb and fossa. Nerve endings in the olfactory cleft transmit scents to the brain, according to the American Rhinologic Society.

Dogs are known as great smellers, but research suggests humans are just as good as man’s best friend. Research published in the May 11, 2017, issue of the journal Science suggests humans can discriminate among 1 trillion different odors; it was once believed humans could discern only about 10,000 different smells.

“The fact is the sense of smell is just as good in humans as in other mammals, like rodents and dogs,” John McGann, a neuroscientist at Rutgers University-New Brunswick in New Jersey and the author of the new review, said in a statement. The Rutgers study backs up a previous study at the Rockefeller University in New York, whose findings were published in the March 2014 issue of the journal Science.

Humans have 400 smelling receptors. While this isn’t as many as animals that are super smellers have, the much more complicated human brain makes the difference.  In fact, poor smelling ability in people may be a symptom of a medical condition or aging. For example, the distorted or decreased ability to smell is a symptom of schizophrenia and depression. Old age can also lessen the ability to smell properly. More than 75 percent of people over the age of 80 years may have major olfactory impairment, according to a 2006 paper published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Taste

The gustatory sense is usually broken down into the perception of four different tastes: salty, sweet, sour and bitter. There is also a fifth taste, defined as umami or savory. There may be many other flavors not yet discovered. Also, spicy is not a taste. It is actually a pain signal, according to the National Library of Medicine (NLM).

The sense of taste aided in human evolution, according to the NLM, because taste helped people test the food they ate. A bitter or sour taste indicated that a plant might be poisonous or rotten. Something salty or sweet, however, often meant the food was rich in nutrients.

Taste is sensed in the taste buds. Adults have 2,000 to 4,000 taste buds. Most of them are on the tongue, but they also line the back of the throat, the epiglottis, the nasal cavity and the esophagus. Sensory cells on the buds form capsules shaped like flower buds or oranges. The tips of these capsules have pores that work like funnels with tiny taste hairs. Proteins on the hairs bind chemicals to the cells for tasting.

It is a myth that the tongue has specific zones for each flavor. The five tastes can be sensed on all parts of the tongue, although the sides are more sensitive than the middle. About half of the sensory cells in taste buds react to several of the five basic tastes. The cells differ in their level of sensitivity. Each has a specific palette of tastes with a fixed ranking, so some cells may be more sensitive to sweet, followed by bitter, sour and salty, while others have their own rankings. The full experience of a flavor is produced only after all of the information from various parts of the tongue is combined.

The other half of the sensory cells are specialized to react to only one taste. It’s their job to transmit information about the intensity — how salty or sweet something tastes.

Other factors help build the perception of taste in the brain. For example, the smell of the food greatly affects how the brain perceives the taste. Smells are sent to the mouth in a process called olfactory referral. This is why someone with a stuffy nose may have trouble tasting food properly. Texture, translated by the sense of touch, also contributes to taste, and recent studies even show color and shape can affect the way we perceive a properly attribute taste to a food.

The sense of space

In addition to the traditional big five, other senses help us translate a myriad of inputs into how we perceive and relate to the physical world.  One deals with how your brain understands where your body is in space. This sense is called proprioception.

Proprioception includes the sense of movement and position of our limbs and muscles. For example, proprioception enables a person to touch their finger to the tip of their nose, even with their eyes closed. It enables a person to climb steps without looking at each one. People with poor proprioception may be clumsy and uncoordinated.

Researchers at the NIH found that people who have particularly poor proprioception through mechanosensation — the ability to sense force, such as feeling when someone presses down on your skin — may have a mutated gene that is passed down from generation to generation. That comes from a September 2016 study in the New England Journal of Medicine. “The patient’s version of [the gene] PIEZO2 may not work, so their neurons cannot detect touch or limb movements,” said Alexander Chesler, a principal investigator at the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health and the lead author of the study.

Additional senses & variations

There are more-subtle senses that most people never really perceive. For example, there are neuron sensors that sense movement to control balance and the tilt of the head. Specific kinesthetic receptors exist for detecting stretching in muscles and tendons, helping people to keep track of their limbs. Other receptors detect levels of oxygen in certain arteries of the bloodstream.

While our five  basic sense seem to operate independently, as distinct modes of perceiving the world, in reality, they collaborate closely to enable the mind to better understand our surroundings. We can become keenly aware of this collaboration under special conditions.

In some cases, a sense may covertly influence another we think is dominant. When visual information clashes with that from sound, sensory crosstalk can cause what we see to alter what we hear. When one sense drops out, another can pick up the slack.  For instance, people who are blind can train their hearing to play double duty. Those who are both blind and deaf can train touch to step in—even to help them interpret speech.

Our senses must also regularly meet and greet in the brain to provide accurate impressions of the world. Our ability to perceive the emotions of others relies on combinations of cues from sounds, sights and even smells.  Perceptual systems, particularly smell, connect with memory and emotion centers to enable sensory cues to trigger feelings and recollections, and are incorporated within them.

The crosstalking of the senses provides some of the most magnificent material for interesting science, illusions, inventions and just plain art.  Here are a few of the best examples of the complex interactions – and extraordinary feats – of our cross-wired senses.

Calling to See

Bats and dolphins, among other animals, emit sounds into their surroundings —not to communicate with other bats and whales — but to “see” what is around them.  They read echoes of the sound waves, which bounce off objects, to identify and locate objects.

This sensory system is called echolocation. Although most of us can only imagine the pictures that form from sound, some sightless people have managed to master a form of echolocation. By uttering sounds and clicks, these individuals can use their ears to navigate. Some, such as Daniel Kish, have even taught others to use this form of human sonar. Kish once described human echolocation as “something like seeing the world in dim flashes of light.”

Fingers Do the Hearing 

People who are both deaf and blind are incredibly good at using other senses, such as touch, to navigate and understand the world. Some use the Tadoma Speechreading Method to perceive speech by touching the lips of another person as they talk. First taught in the 1920s, lip-reading by touch was a popular form of communication among the deafblind. Helen Keller was one of its early adopters.

If taught early in development, the Tadoma Method can help a deaf-blind child learn to speak as well as to understand others. Those who lose their sight and hearing later in life can use it to read lips.

But because the method is extremely difficult and time consuming to learn, by the 1950s it began to lose ground to American Sign Language as the dominant teaching method. Today, only about 50 people in the world still use of the Tadoma Method.

Still, In ASL, the deaf-blind place their hands over another signer’s hands and follow the motions with their fingers—which is easier because the movements are far less subtle.

Beep Baseball

Blind baseball seems almost impossible to even imagine, but since 1975, when a few blind Minnesotans invented “beep baseball”, those who lack sight have taken part in America’s favorite pastime. Thanks to a one-pound beeping oversized softball and some tweaks to the game, players can hit a home run without ever seeing the ball. They use the sound the ball emits to orient themselves, make contact using a bat and to field.  Special bases make it possible to round the diamond. They might be particularly well-suited to this form of the game, as previous research suggests that blind individuals can more easily localize sounds than sighted people can.

Then there is synesthesia

For a few individuals with a condition called synesthesia, the senses collide dramatically and uniquely to form a kaleidoscope world in which chicken tastes like stars, a symphony smells of fresh baked bread or words are bathed in red, green or purple.

People with synesthesia have a particularly curious cross wiring of the senses in which activating one sense spontaneously triggers another. They see colors when they hear noises, associate particular personalities with days of the week, or hear sounds when they see moving dots.

Synesthesia is thought to be genetic, and recent research even suggests it may confer an evolutionary advantage.  Most synesthetes don’t notice anything strange about the way they perceive their environments until it is brought to their attention.

Given that, at any moment in time, we are bombarded by such a diverse combination of sensory experiences, our appreciation of the individual senses can become somewhat muddled. Our taste experience is affected by the smell, texture and temperature of our food. Similarly, our hearing is said to decrease after overeating, and our sight is affected by noises around us. Sight can also be hampered after eating fatty foods.

Here’s another interesting snippet – if a sad, depressed person tells you their world is dull and grey, and flowers have lost their smell, they’re not just speaking metaphorically. Research shows sensory perception can actually be diminished in depressed individuals.  So focussing on a renewed appreciation of your senses can actually help one get out of an emotional rut.

Five senses? More than ten!

The categorization of our five primary senses (sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch) is attributed to Aristotle. While this basic list is still valid, humans have a number of additional ‘sensory abilities’ not covered above. These secondary senses include:

  • Sense of balance and acceleration– the ability to sense body movement, direction and acceleration, and to maintain balance and equilibrium.
  • Temperature sense– the ability to sense heat and the absence of heat (cold).
  • Sense of Pain– the sense of pain was previously believed to be an overloading of pressure receptors, but it has since been identified as a distinct phenomenon that intertwines with the other senses, including touch.
  • Sense of Time– the ability to perceive the passage of time, both short passages as well as longer time cycles.

We are gifted with a complex system of basic and intertwined senses designed to help us take it all in….If any of these seem a little “off” for you, consider seeing a physician who can help you with a tune up….At HealthLynked, we work every day to get you connected with physicians who will really have a great “sense” for what is going on….

Take a brief moment to get a “taste” for how being at the center of your care using the first ever HealthCare social ecosystem will, well, make you “feel”.  Go to HealthLynked.com to get started for free!

Sources:

livescience.com

idahoptv.org

 

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14 Bolts of Inside[r] Info on Lightning | National Safety News

This weekend, for Father’s Day, I had the opportunity to celebrate early with my oldest, her husband and their newborn.  They asked me what I wanted to do, and I volunteered a boat ride to a distant restaurant on the lake we all love.  I say this, but I know my wife, wisely, does not always enjoy the ride, mostly because of the wicked weather that often kicks up on the warm afternoons where we live.

We always check the satellite and motored out after seeing we were clear for the rest of the day.  After dinner, we checked again before shoving off to see a few storms were popping up about 45 miles away.  NO threat to our return leg.

As we headed home, a cloud to the east, where we were headed, started to take on a more ominous shape and started spitting a little rain.  Then, it deeply darkened, and streaks of lightning shot to earth underneath.

We skirted the storm for 30 minutes and headed to a place we knew we could find shelter.  We hunkered down for about an hour, then headed home, a little more tired but safe after the slight scare.  While we did a lot of things right, I recognize now, we also were at significant risk.  The wide eyed look of my granddaughter will always remind me of this.

Summertime across the country means barbecues, festivals, sporting events, boating, hitting the beach, camping, and many other recreational activities. In short, summertime means a lot more people are spending a lot more time in the great outdoors.

We always look forward to the outdoor adventuring this time of the year brings, but it is also the peak season for one of the nation’s deadliest weather phenomena — lightning. Lightning typically receives less attention than other storm-related killers because it does not result in mass destruction or mass casualties like tornadoes, floods, tsunamis or hurricanes often do.

Consider these lightning statistics:

  • About 25 million cloud-to-ground lightning strikes occur in the United States each year. Around the globe, there are about 100 strikes every second!
  • Over the last 30 years, the U.S. has averaged 51 lightning fatalities per year. The great news:  2017 was the least lethal year since we started recording the stats in 1940, with only 16 deaths.  This is most likely due to increasing awareness.
  • Only about 10% of people struck by lightning are actually killed. The other 90% must cope with varying degrees of discomfort and disability, sometimes for the rest of their lives.
  • People struck by lightning are not electrified! They will need your immediate medical attention or first aid.  Help them immediately.
  • Typically, the vast majority of lightning victims each year are male (in 261 instances from 2006-2013, 81% of lightning fatalities were male and 19% were female).

The purpose of Lightning Safety Awareness Week is to educate and raise awareness about the hazards of lightning in order to lower the number of deaths and injuries caused by lightning strikes. Remember, lightning makes every single thunderstorm a potential killer, whether the storm produces one single bolt or ten thousand bolts. 

 Lightning Fatality Statistics

From 2006 through 2017, 376 people were struck and killed by lightning in the United States.  Almost two thirds of the deaths occurred to people who had been enjoying outdoor leisure activities.  The common belief that golfers are responsible for the greatest number of lightning deaths was shown to be a myth.  During this 12-year period fishermen accounted for more than three times as many fatalities as golfers, while beach activities and camping each accounted for about twice as many deaths as golf.  From 2006 to 2017, there were a total of 34 fishing deaths, 22 beach deaths, 19 camping deaths, and 17 boating deaths.

Of the sports activities, soccer saw the greatest number of deaths with 12, as compared to golf with 10.  Around the home, yard work (including mowing the lawn) accounted for 14 fatalities.  For work-related activities, ranching/farming topped the list with 17 deaths.

Males accounted for 80% of all fatalities, and more than 90% of the deaths in the fishing, sports and work categories.  Females had comparatively fewer deaths than men in every category, with their highest percentages in the boating-related activities (35%) and routine daily/weekly activities (34%).

June, July, and August are the peak months for lightning activity across the United States and the peak months for outdoor summer activities.  As a result, more than 70% of the lightning deaths occurred in the months of June, July, and August, with Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays having slightly more deaths than other days of the week.

Ages of the victims varied from young children to older adults with the greatest number of fatalities between the ages of 10 and 60.  Within that age range, there was a relative minimum in deaths for people in their 30s, possibly due to parents of young children being less involved in vulnerable activities.

Based on the media reports of the fatal incidents, many victims were either headed to safety at the time of the fatal strike or were just steps away from safety.  Continued efforts are needed to convince people to get inside a safe place before the lightning threat becomes significant.  For many activities, situational awareness and proper planning are essential to safety.

To put this all into perspective, while you are more likely to be struck TWICE  by lightning than win the lottery, you are TWICE as likely to be killed by a dog attack than lightning.  Some small comfort.

Lightning Myths and Facts

 

Myth: A lightning victim is electrified. If you touch him, you’ll risk being electrocuted.
Fact: The human body does not store electricity, and lightning victims require immediate medical attention. It is perfectly safe to touch a lightning victim in order to give them first aid. Call 911 for help.

Myth: If it’s not raining or there aren’t any clouds overhead, you’re safe from lightning.
Fact: Lightning often strikes several miles from the center of a thunderstorm, far outside the rain or thunderstorm cloud. In fact, “bolts from the blue” can strike as far as 25 miles out from the parent thunderstorm. That’s why it’s important to seek shelter at the first indication of a thunderstorm and stay there until 30 minutes after the last clap of thunder.

Myth: The rubber soles of shoes or rubber tires on a car will protect you from a lightning strike.
Fact: Rubber-soled shoes and rubber tires provide NO protection from lightning, but most vehicles with metal tops and sides do provide adequate shelter from lightning because the charge travels through the metal frame and eventually into the ground. Just be sure to avoid contact with anything inside the vehicle that conducts electricity. Remember, convertibles, motorcycles, bicycles, open-shelled outdoor recreational vehicles and cars with fiberglass shells offer no protection from lightning.

Myth: “Heat Lightning” occurs after very hot summer days and poses no threat.
Fact: Many people incorrectly think that “heat lightning” is a specific type of lightning. Actually, it is just lightning from a thunderstorm that is too far away for any thunder to be heard (thunder is seldom heard beyond 10 miles under ideal conditions). If the storm approaches, the same lightning safety guidelines above should be followed.

Myth: Lightning never strikes the same place twice.
Fact: Lightning often strikes the same place or object repeatedly, especially if it’s tall, pointy, and isolated. The Empire State Building is struck by lightning nearly 100 times each year.

Myth: If caught outside during a thunderstorm, you should seek shelter under a tree.
Fact: Seeking shelter under a tree is one of the leading causes of lightning related fatalities. Remember, NO PLACE outside is safe when thunderstorms are in the area. If you are caught outside in a thunderstorm, keep moving toward a safe shelter.

Myth: Metal structures or metal on the body (jewelry, watches, etc.) attract lightning.
Fact: The presence of metal has no bearing on where lightning will strike. Mountains are made of rock but get struck by lightning many times a year. Rather, an object’s height, shape, and isolation are the dominant factors that affect its likelihood of being struck by lightning. While metal does not attract lightning, it obviously does conduct electricity, so stay away from metal fences, railings, bleachers, etc. during a thunderstorm.

Myth: If caught outside during a thunderstorm, you should lie flat on the ground.
Fact: NO PLACE outside is safe when thunderstorms are in the area. If you are caught outside in a thunderstorm, keep moving toward a safe shelter.

 Lightning Safety Guidelines

Lightning is one of the most erratic and unpredictable characteristics of a thunderstorm. Because of this, no one can guarantee an individual or group absolute protection from lightning. However, knowing and following proven lightning safety guidelines can greatly reduce the risk of injury or death.

Most lightning victims are not struck during the worst of a thunderstorm but rather before or after the storm reaches its greatest intensity. This is because many people are unaware that lightning can strike as far as 25 miles away from its parent thunderstorm – much farther out from the area of rainfall within the storm!  “Blue sky” lightning is common at 10 miles from an area storm.

Therefore, if you can hear thunder, you are within striking distance. Seek safe shelter immediately. Remember this lightning safety rule: WHEN THUNDER ROARS, GO INDOORS…and stay there until 30 minutes after the last clap of thunder. Do not wait for the rain to start before you decide to seek shelter, and do not leave shelter just because the rain has ended.

The best way to protect yourself and your family from the dangers of thunderstorms is to be prepared. If you have outdoor plans, be sure to familiarize yourself with the latest weather forecast before heading out. Upon arriving on-site, determine where you will seek shelter in the event of a thunderstorm and how long it would take to reach that shelter. A sturdy, enclosed structure with plumbing and electrical wiring is safest, but if one is not available most enclosed metal vehicles are safe alternatives.

Cancel or postpone outdoor activities if thunderstorms develop.  During your outdoor activities, keep an eye to the sky for developing thunderstorms. If thunder is heard, if lightning is seen, or even if thunderclouds are developing, get to your place of shelter without delay! Have a lightning safety plan.

WHERE NOT TO GO:

Not all types of buildings or vehicles are safe during thunderstorms. Buildings with exposed sides are NOT safe(even if they are “grounded”). These include beach shacks, metal sheds, picnic shelters/pavilions, carports, and baseball dugouts. Porches are dangerous as well.

Convertible vehicles offer no safety from lightning, even if the top is up. Other vehicles which are NOT safe during thunderstorms are those with open cabs, such as golf carts, tractors, and construction equipment.

WHERE TO GO:

The safest location during a thunderstorm is inside a large enclosed structure with plumbing and electrical wiring. These include shopping centers, schools, office buildings, and private residences. If lightning strikes the building, the plumbing and wiring will conduct the electricity and eventually direct it into the ground.

If no substantial buildings are available, then an enclosed metal vehicle such as an automobile, van, or school bus would be a suitable alternative.

While being inside a house or other building with electrical wiring and plumbing is your safest option during a thunderstorm, it does not guarantee you will be 100% safe from lightning. There are still some lightning safety guidelines you must follow while inside a place of shelter to keep yourself safe.

  • Don’t use corded phones:  Using a corded phone during a thunderstorm is one of the leading causes of indoor lightning injuries. However, it IS safe to use cordless or cell phones as long as they are not being charged.
  • Stay away from windows and doors:Sitting on an open porch to watch a thunderstorm is also dangerous. It is best to be in an interior room during a thunderstorm.
  • Don’t touch electrical equipment or cords:  Any device that uses electricity (e.g. computers, televisions, household appliances, etc.) is susceptible to a lightning strike. Electrical surges caused by lightning can damage electronics (even at some distance from the actual strike), and a typical surge protector will do little to protect the device (or the person using it) if lightning should strike. So, consider unplugging certain appliances or electronics, but for your own safety do this BEFORE the storm arrives.
  • Avoid plumbing:  Metal plumbing and the water inside are both very good conductors of electricity. Therefore, do not wash your hands or dishes, take a shower or bath, do laundry, etc. during a thunderstorm.
  • Refrain from touching concrete surfaces:Lightning can travel through the metal wires or bars in concrete walls and flooring, such as in the basement or garage.
  • If inside a vehicle:  Roll the windows up and avoid contact with any conducting paths leading to the outside of the vehicle (e.g. metal surfaces, ignition, portable electronic devices plugged in for charging, etc.).

While we won’t be there to warn you of an impending strike, we will always be there with Ready medical Information if you ever need to call for emergency services.  With HealthLynked, you are able to compile and safely collate all of your medical information in one convenient place should you ever need to access it fast.

Come in out of the rain and steer clear of the storm of finding a physician just right for you.  Go to HealthLynked.com today to sign up for Free and take comfort knowing your health information is with you wherever you may go….

Stay safe!

Sources:

weather.gov

nationalgeographic.com