Heightened Sense Of Smell

Hyperosmia can be temporary and minor, or have lasting effects and be a sign of a more serious condition. That’s why you’ll need to find out if there’s an underlying cause behind this change in smell and taste. Common causes of hyperosmia include: ‌‌

Hyperosmia

Hyperosmia is a heightened and hypersensitive sense of smell that has been associated with a number of medical conditions. Loss of smell is more common than hyperosmia. Outside of conditions that are known to cause this disorder, chronic hyperosmia can sometimes occur without any clear cause.

People with hyperosmia can experience strong discomfort and even illness from certain smells. Exposure to chemical odors like synthetic fragrances, perfumes, and cleaning products can trigger mild to severe discomfort. Even the scent of certain shampoos can be too much.

Exposure to odors and toxic vapors that aggravate your hyperosmia may lead to anxiety and depression. Individual triggers and irritants vary from one person to the next.

Hyperosmia is sometimes caused by migraines. One study found that between 25 to 50 percent of the 50 patients in their study experienced some version of hyperosmia during their migraine attacks. 11 of the patients experienced hyperosmia before the actual migraine.

Severe cases of hyperosmia can disrupt your life by causing anxiety and depression, especially if you’re unsure what smells might trigger the discomfort. This can be isolating because it may be difficult for you to attend certain events or go to certain places.

Hyperosmia is associated with multiple conditions and can trigger a variety of symptoms. Some conditions associated with hyperosmia can cause the change in smell, and vice versa. Because of this, it may be difficult for you to determine whether your hyperosmia is a symptom of a larger disorder or the cause of it.

Pregnancy

One of the most common causes of hyperosmia is pregnancy. An early symptom of pregnancy is a heightened sense of smell. This can trigger headaches, nausea, and vomiting during first-trimester morning sickness. It’s also associated with hyperemesis gravidarum, a severe form of morning sickness that can lead to hospitalization. Symptoms often fade as the pregnancy goes on, and typically go away after birth.

Migraines

Migraine headaches can cause and be caused by hyperosmia. Heightened sensitivity to smells can happen between migraine episodes. Odor sensitivity can also trigger a migraine or make you more susceptible to having them.

Lyme disease

Lyme disease is another illness that is associated with hyperosmia. In one study, 50% of Lyme disease patients experienced a heightened sense of smell. If you think you might have been exposed to Lyme disease, talk to your doctor about being tested.

Autoimmune diseases

Recently, researchers have begun studying links between autoimmune diseases like Addison’s disease. Hyperosmia is also a symptom of untreated adrenal insufficiency, which is a precursor to Addison’s disease.

Neurological conditions

Some neurologic conditions have also been linked to hyperosmia, including multiple sclerosis (MS), Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and epilepsy. Multiple sclerosis is known to affect senses like taste and smell. Loss of smell is most common in these conditions. With the exception of MS, people with these conditions may experience hyperosmia instead.

In rare cases, neoplastic growths like polyps or tumors can occur intranasally or intracrannially. These may affect the olfactory nerve.

  • allergies
  • sterile meningitis
  • diabetes
  • Cushing syndrome
  • B-12 deficiency
  • nutrient deficiencies
  • certain prescription medication

The condition (or predisposition to hyperosmia) may also be genetic. More research needs to be done into its causes and possible treatments.

If you have hyperosmia, chewing peppermint gum can help until you can move away from the triggering smell.

Successful long-term treatment of hyperosmia involves pinpointing and treating the underlying cause of the symptom. Treatment based on the root cause should alleviate your hypersensitivity to odors. Work with your doctor to determine the cause. If you don’t already have a primary care doctor, the Healthline FindCare tool can help you find a physician in your area.

If a growth like a polyp or tumor is causing hyperosmia, surgical removal may alleviate the symptoms. Migraine medications can help treat hyperosmia when migraines are the root cause. Migraine medications can also prevent migraines from occurring as a result of hyperosmia.

Avoiding specific triggers when possible is valuable. Triggers are different for each person. Some people are triggered by certain foods. Others can’t tolerate perfume or chemical smells.

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It’s possible that your prescription medication could cause you to experience hyperosmia. If you’ve experienced hyperosmia after starting a new prescription, you should ask your doctor about changing medications.

If you’re able to pinpoint and treat the underlying cause of your hyperosmia, your long-term outlook looks good. You should be able to make a full recovery.

Hyperosmia can be difficult to treat when the underlying cause is difficult to find. In these cases, managing symptoms is the best approach until the cause is found.

In the meantime, reduce or eliminate your exposure to irritant odors as much as possible. Try to track what types of smells give you the most trouble. If you’re experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety as a result of the condition, make an appointment to see a counselor to help you cope.

Last medically reviewed on November 20, 2017

What’s That Smell? What You Need to Know About Hyperosmia

Heightened Sense Of Smell

Whether it’s the smell of cookies baking or Fido’s … ahem … gas, smells have a way of seizing our attention. But when subtle odors interfere with daily living, you may have a condition called hyperosmia.

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“Hyperosmia is a heightened or increased sense of smell,” explains ENT (ear, nose and throat) specialist and rhinologist Raj Sindwani, MD. People can experience it all the time or occasionally. And while hyperosmia doesn’t always require treatment, it can signal an underlying health issue that does. Dr. Sindwani shares what you need to know about this unique and uncommon smell disorder.

What causes hyperosmia?

Hyperosmia is relatively rare, and doctors usually don’t know why someone develops it. But there’s a seemingly endless list of things that may be to blame, including:

  • Pregnancy.
  • Epilepsy.
  • Addison’s disease (when your adrenal glands don’t make enough hormones).
  • Psychiatric conditions.
  • Lyme disease.
  • Multiple sclerosis.

“Other factors can also disturb our sense of smell, including exposure to toxins, such as lead or mercury. Allergies, polyps and tumors can also affect smell. So can things like diabetes and nutritional deficiencies. It’s all over the map when it comes to smell disturbances,” notes Dr. Sindwani.

While smell disorders don’t run in families, an underlying cause might. “We don’t know what causes smell disorders — so there’s no real genetic link that we’re aware of. For example, cystic fibrosis can run in families and affect smell. But smell disorders on their own generally do not.”

Sensitive to smells? How to know if it’s hyperosmia

It’s complicated. Because so many things may cause hyperosmia, symptoms can include anything and everything. But Dr. Sindwani recommends seeing a doctor if:

  • The hypersensitivity to smells is persistent.
  • You feel like there’s a change in how you perceive odors.

How is hyperosmia diagnosed?

“A doctor can rule out a treatable causes for your sensitivity to smell by reviewing your health history and doing a physical exam,” says Dr. Sindwani. “A nasal endoscopy is the gold standard test to rule out anything physical going on in your nose like a mass, polyps or infection.”

During this minor procedure (which is performed with you awake and sitting in an exam chair – don’t worry it doesn’t hurt!), your doctor:

  1. Places a camera onto the end of a tiny rigid or flexible telescope.
  2. Guides the scope gently into your nose to look around, while the camera transmits images to a TV screen.
  3. Examines the images to see if there are any physical issues that would affect your ability to smell.

“With this type of endoscopy, we can actually see the area where the smell receptors live high up in the nasal cavity,” explains Dr. Sindwani.

If your nose gets the “all clear,” your doctor may do a “scratch and sniff” smell test. If that points to an increased sense of smell, hyperosmia is usually the diagnosis.

Smell and taste are also closely linked. (Ever smell something so strong you could taste it?) For that reason, a smell disorder can initially seem like a taste problem. “Often, people come in and say, ‘Things don’t taste right to me,’ when over time, we learn it’s a smell problem. You can have one, the other or both of those things in play.”

How to turn the dial down on your nose

If you suspect you have hyperosmia or another smelling issue, Dr. Sindwani says a good first step is to see an ENT specialist. The specialist can rule out any physical causes for smell problems, such as tumors, polyps or infection. Sometimes imaging tests (like a CT or MRI scan) can also be helpful in looking for underlying issues.

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“Beyond that, hyperosmia should be managed depending on what the underlying issue is. Migraines might be treated by your internist or neurologist, for example. If you have a brain issue, such as epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s disease, that might be treated by a neurologist or other type of doctor as well.”

But determining a treatment plan can be challenging since causes are hard to pinpoint. In those cases,doctors can recommend supportive treatment measures, such as:

  • Saline washes or sprays to keep the nose healthy and moist.
  • Medications to help with any nausea or vomiting induced by your extreme sensitivity to smells.
  • Masks to block strong odors.
  • Gum or candy to disguise cringe-worthy smells.

What Is Hyperosmia?

You may have encountered a time when your sense of smell was heightened. Strong odors might be overwhelming and make you feel nauseated. This heightened sense of smell is called hyperosmia. It can happen consistently or during certain periods of time. If it comes and goes, it may be a sign of an underlying medical condition.

What Is Hyperosmia?

Hyperosmia is an overwhelming sensitivity to smells. There are many reasons behind this change in smell. Some include genetics, hormone changes, and migraines.

If you have hyperosmia, your taste may also be affected. Your taste and smell are connected by your olfactory system. The increased sense of smell may also make flavors more intense.

Your olfactory area, located in your nose, is where scent travels before it passes into your throat. That’s why your smell and taste are both affected. When you’re smelling strong scents that create a taste in your throat, you may start to feel nauseated.

Hyperosmia is a rare condition that can be difficult to diagnose. Most cases rely on you reporting what you’re experiencing, but it doesn’t always tie back to an underlying physical cause.

Causes of Hyperosmia

Hyperosmia can be temporary and minor, or have lasting effects and be a sign of a more serious condition. That’s why you’ll need to find out if there’s an underlying cause behind this change in smell and taste. Common causes of hyperosmia include: ‌‌

Pregnancy. During your pregnancy, you’ll have changes in your senses of smell and taste. Hyperosmia is most commonly found in pregnant women. This change will typically happen in your first few months of pregnancy. Certain foods and smells may become unbearable to you and even make you extremely nauseated.

Migraines. Hyperosmia can happen when you get a migraine. This heightened sense of smell will happen during the headache phase of your migraine.

Neurological conditions.Seizures that come from the middle of your temporal lobe — the part of your brain that stores memories — can give you a false sense of strong odors. This is considered an olfactory hallucination. These smells are a sign that you’re about to have a seizure.

Autoimmune diseases. There’s a connection between autoimmune disorders and changes to your olfactory system (sense of smell). Environmental and hereditary factors can affect your olfactory receptors.

Impact of Hyperosmia on Health

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by smells and taste because of hyperosmia, this can affect your day-to-day life. You may stop eating certain foods or avoid certain things that have a strong odor to you. If you’re not pregnant and it lasts for a long time, talk to your doctor to find out if it’s a symptom of another underlying condition. It could mean a more serious neurological disorder.

If your hyperosmia doesn’t go away, you’ll want to see an ear, nose, and throat specialist to determine the right kind of treatment.

Treatment for Hyperosmia

Before your doctor prescribes a treatment for you, they’ll need to run tests to make a diagnosis. These tests could include:

  • Scratch and sniff test
  • Sip, spit, and rinse test
  • Computed tomography scan (CT)
  • Magnetic resonance imaging scan (MRI)
  • Endoscopy

Once your ear, nose, and throat doctor has found the underlying cause of your hyperosmia, they could prescribe a few different treatments. These include antibiotics if you’re dealing with an infection. They may recommend that you give up smoking. You might need to address dental hygiene problems that could cause gingivitis. They may also suggest sinus surgery.

In most cases of hyperosmia, though, the heightened sense of smell will only be temporary. If you’re pregnant, this condition typically doesn’t last past the first trimester.

Show Sources

Cleveland Clinic: “What’s That Smell? What You Need to Know About Hyperosmia.”

Clinical Reviews in Allergy & Immunology: “Smell and autoimmunity: a comprehensive review.”

Journal of Neurology: “Smell and other sensory disturbances in migraine.”

Merck Manual: “Overview of Smell and Taste Disorders.”

Northwestern Medicine: “What Are Smell and Taste Disturbances?”

The Society of Sensory Professionals: “HYPEROSMIA.”

University of Miami Health Systems: “Disorders of Smell and Taste.”

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Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD, is a well-known doctor. He is famous for his studies of ageing, genetics and other medical conditions. He works at the Institute of Food Biotechnology and Genomics NAS of Ukraine. His scientific researches are printed by the most reputable international magazines. Some of his works are: Differences in the gut Firmicutes to Bacteroidetes ratio across age groups in healthy Ukrainian population [BiomedCentral.com]; Mating status affects Drosophila lifespan, metabolism and antioxidant system [Science Direct]; Anise Hyssop Agastache foeniculum Increases Lifespan, Stress Resistance, and Metabolism by Affecting Free Radical Processes in Drosophila [Frontiersin].
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