What Does It Mean When Your Sense of Smell Is Enhanced
A heightened sense of smell may indicate an underlying medical condition

If you have a heightened sense of smell (hyperosmia) that comes and goes, it may indicate an underlying medical condition.

Hypersomia can make you feel sick to your stomach due to an increased ability to perceive odors. Learn about causes, symptoms, and treatment.

What is hyperosmia?

Hyperosmia is a rare condition and challenging to diagnose. The diagnosis is mostly established based on symptoms. 

Various factors cause these changes in sense of smell, including hormonal changes, genetic factors, migraines, nasal polyps, and head injuries.

Your sense of taste may be affected as well since both smell and taste are closely related.

What causes hyperosmia?

Hyperosmia can be a minor side effect or a symptom of a serious illness. Possible causes of hyperosmia include:

  • Pregnancy: Your perceptions of taste and smell can change during pregnancy, especially during the first few months. You may find some tastes and odors intolerable, and they can make you feel extremely nauseous.
  • Migraines: During the headache phase of your migraine, your sense of smell may become heightened.
  • Seizures: Olfactory hallucinations or seizures that originate in the middle of your temporal lobe (the area of your brain responsible for memory storage) can cause you to smell strong odors. These odors may indicate that you are about to experience a seizure.
  • Autoimmune diseases: Autoimmune diseases are related to changes in your olfactory system, which can be affected by environmental or hereditary factors.
  • Allergies: Nasal congestion frequently coexists with upper respiratory allergies. This can make it harder to identify smells. It is believed that this is connected to changes in the superficial nerve receptors in the nasal passages.
  • Upper respiratory infection: You can develop hypersensitivity to some smells when you have a stuffy nose or sinus infection.
  • Neurological conditions: Neurological conditions including Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, and stroke can cause hypersomia.

What are the symptoms of hyperosmia?

Common symptoms of hyperosmia include

  • Noticing smells you would usually filter out
  • Feeling sick when smelling something
  • Getting a headache when exposed to strong odors

A heightened sense of smell can cause you to get sick from the smell of cigarette smoke or be overwhelmed by the scent of perfume, which can occasionally cause vomiting. Even the smell of cooking and scented candles can make you sick.

Hyposmia typically causes decreased appetite and weight loss. However, it can also lead to weight gain in some cases. This is because your sense of taste can be affected by hyperosmia. For example, if you find spicy foods to be overpowering or are not enjoying them as before, your taste buds may have gotten overly sensitive. 

Associated symptoms include

What are the possible complications of hyperosmia?

The most serious complication of hyperosmia is anosmia, which is a profound olfactory impairment. Anosmia refers to the complete loss of smell perception and may follow hyperosmia. This could be a lifelong issue with a longer recovery time.

If hyperosmia is left undiagnosed or untreated, it can lead to anxiety, panic attacks, depression, social anxiety, and poor quality of life.


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How is hyperosmia diagnosed?

Diagnosing hyperosmia involves reviewing your medical history and performing a physical examination. Your doctor may also advise a blood test and an imaging test to identify underlying diseases that might be causing hyperosmia.

Diagnostic tests may include:

What are the treatment options for hyperosmia?

If you suspect you have hyperosmia, consult your doctor to determine the cause and receive appropriate treatment. Depending on the underlying cause, treatments may include medication, surgery, or lifestyle changes.

Avoiding the trigger that causes offending smells is the best course of action for hypersomnia. People who suffer from hypersomnia may find it easier to avoid unpleasant odors if they chew candy or peppermint.

If your symptoms are a side effect of a certain medication, your doctor may recommend switching prescriptions. If the cause is an abnormal growth in the nose or skull, surgery may be necessary in rare cases.

If your hyperosmia does not go away with these measures, you should consult an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) expert to determine the best course of action.

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Medically Reviewed on 11/21/2022
Image Source: Getty image

What’s That Smell? What You Need to Know About Hyperosmia. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/whats-that-smell-what-you-need-to-know-about-hyperosmia/

Hyperosmia. https://www.sensorysociety.org/knowledge/sspwiki/Pages/Hyperosmia.aspx

Smell and Taste Disorders. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/smell-and-taste-disorders

What Is Hyperosmia? https://www.webmd.com/brain/what-is-hyperosmia