What Does an Enhanced Sense of Smell Mean?

Reviewed on 11/9/2022
Woman with hyperosmia smelling a lemon
Hyperosmia (enhanced sense of smell) has many causes, including Lyme disease, migraines, hormone deficiency, vitamin B12 deficiency, obesity, Addison’s disease, systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), type 1 diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, and more.

An enhanced sense of smell, or hyperosmia, is a rare disorder in which people have a heightened sense of smell as compared to an average person.

Hyperosmia is usually caused by an underlying condition. In some cases, a heightened sense of smell can make an underlying medical problem worse. Some “super smellers” may be more sensitive to pleasant smells, while others may be more affected by foul odors. 

Causes of an enhanced sense of smell may include: 

What Are Symptoms of an Enhanced Sense of Smell?

Symptoms of an enhanced sense of smell (hyperosmia) involve an increased sensitivity to smell as compared to an average person.

  • Nausea or discomfort from some odors
    • Trigger smells may include: 
      • Perfumes
      • Scented candles
      • Cleaning products
      • Strong chemical odors
  • Avoidance of things with a strong odor
  • Effects on taste and avoiding certain foods
  • Increased headaches, including migraines
  • Symptoms related to the underlying condition that is causing the hyperosmia

How Is an Enhanced Sense of Smell Diagnosed?

An enhanced sense of smell (hyperosmia) is diagnosed with a patient history and physical examination. Usually, a heightened sense of smell is not the only symptom a person experiences, and the other symptoms of an underlying condition may provide clues for the doctor to help determine the cause of the hyperosmia. 

Other tests may be needed to help determine the cause, such as blood tests and imaging tests.

There is also a diagnostic test to confirm hyperosmia, especially if it might be caused by Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s disease, called The University of Pennsylvania Smell Identification Test (UPSIT).

What Is the Treatment for an Enhanced Sense of Smell?

Treatment for an enhanced sense of smell (hyperosmia) depends on the cause. Treating the underlying cause may help the hyperosmia go away. 

Avoiding smells that trigger symptoms such as nausea is advised when possible. When avoiding a trigger odor is not possible, using peppermint to help mask the smell might help. 

If a particular medication is causing the hyperosmia, that medication might be changed. Never stop taking a prescribed medication without first talking to your doctor. 

If nausea is a problem, anti-nausea medications (antiemetics) such as ondansetron (Zofran) may be prescribed. 

Reviewed on 11/9/2022

Image source: iStock Images







https://academic.oup.com/chemse/article/40/4/279/275397?login=false https://alz-journals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1016/j.jalz.2019.08.200