Hyperosmia is a heightened sense of smell. This increased ability to perceive odors usually occurs due to another condition, but may also happen on its own in some cases.
In this article, we examine the other symptoms that can occur alongside hyperosmia, as well as the range of conditions that can cause it. We also take a look at the treatment options for a heightened sense of smell.
When someone has hyperosmia, they can experience smells more strongly than other people. This strong sense of smell may lead a person with hyperosmia to experience discomfort and illness from certain odors.
Trigger odors for hyperosmia vary from person to person. Common smells that may trigger discomfort or illness in a person with hyperosmia include:
- chemical smells
- cleaning products
- scented candles
Because a variety of underlying conditions may cause hyperosmia, a person may also experience other symptoms related to the condition.
Hyperosmia tends to be a complication of another underlying condition. However, changes to the sense of smell may trigger an increase in headaches and nausea and vomiting.
Migraines are a type of headache that can cause recurrent attacks of moderate to severe pain. The reason why some people have migraines is currently unknown, but environmental changes, such as the weather, can trigger a migraine.
Environmental triggers can also include certain smells. As a result, people with hyperosmia may be more likely to experience migraines when they smell particular odors.
There may be a genetic reason that makes some people more likely to develop hyperosmia than others. Scientists need to carry out more research to fully understand this possible genetic link and to develop potential treatments.
Hyperosmia typically occurs alongside another condition. Some of these conditions can cause a change in the sense of smell. Sometimes, however, a change in the sense of smell can worsen the underlying problem.
Possible causes of hyperosmia include the following:
Hormonal changes in pregnancy can lead to changes in the sense of smell. According to research, the majority of pregnant women experience a heightened sense of smell in the first trimester of pregnancy.
People who experience hyperosmia during pregnancy may also experience increased nausea and vomiting.
Pregnancy-induced hyperosmia tends to go away after the pregnancy ends and hormone levels return to normal.
Hyperosmia is a common symptom of some autoimmune disorders. It can also occur when the kidneys do not work correctly, which can lead to Addison’s disease, an adrenal gland disorder.
Systemic lupus erythematosus also affects the sense of smell, primarily due to its impact on the nervous system.
Some studies show that as many as 50 percent of the people that contract this tick-borne illness develop hyperosmia. The way that Lyme disease affects the nervous system may contribute to the change in the sense of smell.
Other neurological conditions
The following neurological conditions can cause hyperosmia:
Many prescription medications can affect the sense of smell. Most medications dull the sense of smell, but occasionally a prescription drug may make certain smells stronger.
People that experience a change in their sense of smell after starting a new medication should consult their doctor.
In rare cases, type 1 diabetes may cause hyperosmia. This generally occurs when type 1 diabetes has not yet been treated or is not well managed.
Some nutritional deficiencies, including a lack of B-12, can affect the sense of smell. A deficiency in B-12 can seriously impair the nervous system.
A person who experiences a change in their sense of smell should take note of any other new symptoms that they are experiencing.
A doctor will likely start by taking note of the person’s symptoms and then conducting a full physical exam.
If the cause of hyperosmia is not clear, a doctor may then order more tests to work out the cause. Possible tests may include blood tests and imaging tests.
Treating hyperosmia depends largely on the cause.
In many cases, the best treatment for hyperosmia is to avoid smells that cause it. Trigger smells may vary from person to person but can include strong chemical smells and particular food.
When it is not possible to avoid a smell, a person may find it helps to chew peppermint gum or suck peppermint candy until they can move away from the cause of the odor.
A doctor may prescribe medications to treat the underlying conditions that cause hyperosmia. For example, people who experience migraines might find that migraine medication helps relieve hyperosmia. People with hyperosmia due to disorders affecting the nervous system may also benefit from taking medications for their condition.
On the other hand, a doctor may change someone’s prescription if they are experiencing hyperosmia as a side effect of a particular medication.
Sometimes, surgery is required to remove growths in the skull or nose if they are causing the hyperosmia.
Hyperosmia can be challenging to treat because the underlying cause may not be easy to identify.
When a doctor can identify the underlying condition, they can successfully help people with hyperosmia find relief from their heightened sense of smell.