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Ear, Nose, and Throat Disorders

Heightened sense of smell

03/13/2008

Question:

I am 62 years of age and my sense of smell seems to have increased to the point that I get physically sick if I smell cigarette smoke and certain odors. I am in good health. What causes this?

Answer:

The most likely problem is that you have in fact suffered some loss of smell, which can sometimes be associated with odorant distortions.  For example, sometimes a cold or viral upper respiratory infection will cause one to partially lose the sense of smell.  The detection of odors is diminished, but the perception of some odors is distorted.  This distorted smell is usually described as foul and very unpleasant.  Hence odors such as tobacco smoke can be unpleasant and cause the feelings you describe.

On the other hand, such symptoms can rarely be associated with other systemic metabolic disorders.  A good place to start would be to have a general physical by your primary MD, and then consider follow up with an ENT physician if that physical examination is otherwise normal.

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Response by:

Allen M Seiden, MD Allen M Seiden, MD
Professor of Otolaryngology, Director of Division of Rhinology and Sinus Disorders, Director of University Taste and Smell Center, Director of University Sinus and Allergy
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati