Hyperosmia

Medically reviewed by Alana Biggers, MD on November 20, 2017Written by Ana Gotter

Overview

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.

Symptoms

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.

Complications and associated conditions

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.

Causes

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.

Other possible causes of hyperosmia include:

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

Treatment

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 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.

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.

Outlook

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.

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