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What Is Hyperosmia?

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on November 08, 2021

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:

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

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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