Search IconSearch

What’s That Smell? What You Need to Know About Hyperosmia

From causes to diagnosis + when you need treatment

Illustration of a clothespin on a woman's nose

Whether it’s the smell of cookies baking or Fido’s … ahem … gas, smells have a way of seizing our attention. But when subtle odors interfere with daily living, you may have a condition called hyperosmia.


Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

“Hyperosmia is a heightened or increased sense of smell,” explains ENT (ear, nose and throat) specialist and rhinologist Raj Sindwani, MD. People can experience it all the time or occasionally. And while hyperosmia doesn’t always require treatment, it can signal an underlying health issue that does. Dr. Sindwani shares what you need to know about this unique and uncommon smell disorder.

What causes hyperosmia?

Hyperosmia is relatively rare, and doctors usually don’t know why someone develops it. But there’s a seemingly endless list of things that may be to blame, including:

“Other factors can also disturb our sense of smell, including exposure to toxins, such as lead or mercury. Allergies, polyps and tumors can also affect smell. So can things like diabetes and nutritional deficiencies. It’s all over the map when it comes to smell disturbances,” notes Dr. Sindwani.

While smell disorders don’t run in families, an underlying cause might. “We don’t know what causes smell disorders — so there’s no real genetic link that we’re aware of. For example, cystic fibrosis can run in families and affect smell. But smell disorders on their own generally do not.”

Sensitive to smells? How to know if it’s hyperosmia

It’s complicated. Because so many things may cause hyperosmia, symptoms can include anything and everything. But Dr. Sindwani recommends seeing a doctor if:

  • The hypersensitivity to smells is persistent.
  • You feel like there’s a change in how you perceive odors.

How is hyperosmia diagnosed?

“A doctor can rule out a treatable causes for your sensitivity to smell by reviewing your health history and doing a physical exam,” says Dr. Sindwani. “A nasal endoscopy is the gold standard test to rule out anything physical going on in your nose like a mass, polyps or infection.”

During this minor procedure (which is performed with you awake and sitting in an exam chair – don’t worry it doesn’t hurt!), your doctor:

  1. Places a camera onto the end of a tiny rigid or flexible telescope.
  2. Guides the scope gently into your nose to look around, while the camera transmits images to a TV screen.
  3. Examines the images to see if there are any physical issues that would affect your ability to smell.

“With this type of endoscopy, we can actually see the area where the smell receptors live high up in the nasal cavity,” explains Dr. Sindwani.

If your nose gets the “all clear,” your doctor may do a “scratch and sniff” smell test. If that points to an increased sense of smell, hyperosmia is usually the diagnosis.


Smell and taste are also closely linked. (Ever smell something so strong you could taste it?) For that reason, a smell disorder can initially seem like a taste problem. “Often, people come in and say, ‘Things don’t taste right to me,’ when over time, we learn it’s a smell problem. You can have one, the other or both of those things in play.”

How to turn the dial down on your nose

If you suspect you have hyperosmia or another smelling issue, Dr. Sindwani says a good first step is to see an ENT specialist. The specialist can rule out any physical causes for smell problems, such as tumors, polyps or infection. Sometimes imaging tests (like a CT or MRI scan) can also be helpful in looking for underlying issues.

“Beyond that, hyperosmia should be managed depending on what the underlying issue is. Migraines might be treated by your internist or neurologist, for example. If you have a brain issue, such as epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s disease, that might be treated by a neurologist or other type of doctor as well.”

But determining a treatment plan can be challenging since causes are hard to pinpoint. In those cases,doctors can recommend supportive treatment measures, such as:

  • Saline washes or sprays to keep the nose healthy and moist.
  • Medications to help with any nausea or vomiting induced by your extreme sensitivity to smells.
  • Masks to block strong odors.
  • Gum or candy to disguise cringe-worthy smells.


Learn more about our editorial process.

Related Articles

Person getting an audiogram, with technician
April 1, 2024/Ear, Nose & Throat
The Link Between COVID-19 and Tinnitus (That Ringing in Your Ears)

COVID-19 may be associated with tinnitus, but research is still ongoing

Person touching aching ear, with home remedies floating around
March 28, 2024/Ear, Nose & Throat
Home Remedies for an Ear Infection: What To Try and What To Avoid

Not all ear infections need antibiotics — cold and warm compresses and changing up your sleep position can help

person adjusting ear bud in ear
March 6, 2024/Ear, Nose & Throat
Take Good Care of Your Ears: Tips for Ear Hygiene and Hearing Protection

Care for your ears by steering clear of cotton swabs, taking precautions in loud settings and seeking medical help when needed

Person holding cup of hot tea, with honey jar floating in background
February 23, 2024/Ear, Nose & Throat
Why Your Throat Tickles — And How To Stop It

Often, a throat tickle is due to a cold, allergies or GERD — but see a doctor if it won’t go away

person with nosebleed
November 12, 2023/Ear, Nose & Throat
When To Worry About a Nosebleed

Seek help if bleeding doesn’t stop or they’re interfering with your life

Person suffering from an ear ache.
September 11, 2023/Ear, Nose & Throat
Is It Safe To Use Essential Oils To Treat an Ear Infection?

Ear infections can be painful, but essential oils may make the problem worse

Person in bedroom with throat and ear pain.
August 29, 2023/Ear, Nose & Throat
Pain in Your Throat and Ears: When and Why To Seek Treatment

Throat and ear pain that lasts more than four weeks deserves serious attention

person holding up finger to ear in social setting
August 22, 2023/Ear, Nose & Throat
How To Navigate Hearing Loss in Social Settings

There are lots of tips, tricks and assistive devices out there that can help

Trending Topics

Female and friend jogging outside
How To Increase Your Metabolism for Weight Loss

Focus on your body’s metabolic set point by eating healthy foods, making exercise a part of your routine and reducing stress

stovetop with stainless steel cookware and glassware
5 Ways Forever Chemicals (PFAS) May Affect Your Health

PFAS chemicals may make life easier — but they aren’t always so easy on the human body

jar of rice water and brush, with rice scattered around table
Could Rice Water Be the Secret To Healthier Hair?

While there’s little risk in trying this hair care treatment, there isn’t much science to back up the claims