What is Osmophobia?

Osmophobia is the fear of smells. Persons with osmophobia show a common anxiety, dislike and psychological super sensitivity to odors and smells. The phobia is so extreme; making persons with it do anything under their control to move away or avoid the anxiety which is caused by odors and smells.

The world is rich with a variety of smells, with some being doping pleasant, while others are disgusting and repelling. In some cases, specific smells can initiate a memory, while in other cases; specific scents can notify us of likely to occur danger, such as smoke and gas. Nevertheless, there is a portion of the world population that unknowingly relates fear to specific scents.

Osmophobia is also known as olfactophobia, which is fear, dislike, or psychological super sensitivity to scents/smells/odors. Osmophobia is usually seen in chronic migraine sufferers, who are likely to have migraines that are alerted by odor. The migraines are mostly awakened by bad odors, but super sensitivity might be caused by all odors. A study findings shows that 25 percent of sufferers with migraine have some level of osmophobia.

What is Osmophobia?

Osmophobia is also likely to occur in persons, who have recently withdrawn from substances such as prescription medicines, alcohol or illegal drugs and to be specific opioid withdrawal syndrome, which is mostly linked to nausea and/or vomiting.

Most persons with osmophobia need no treatment as avoiding an object of their fear is sufficient to minimize the challenge.

Nevertheless, it may not be possible to always avoid specific phobias. For such cases, you should get professional assistance and advice, to help find information regarding treatment options.

Causes of Osmophobia

The exact cause of osmophobia is unknown but migraine can cause osmophobia. Normally, it is recognized that phobias such as osmophobia emerge from external events that are traumatic combined with internal predispositions which include hereditary or genetics. Specific phobias roots are easily traced to their certain initiating causes, which is mainly a traumatic condition at an early age. The major challenge that most sufferers experience is the feeling of not being able to move away from smells that they fear. The smell is in their shoes, clothes, refrigerator, room and sometimes walking past their neighborhood.

  • At times, osmophobia can be caused by genetic and environmental factors.
  • Children with close relatives who have anxiety disorder have a high risk of developing a phobia.
  • Also, people with medical conditions that are ongoing or health concerns often develop phobias. Incidences of people developing phobias after brain injuries resulting from trauma are on rise. In addition, abuse of substances and depression are linked to development of phobias.

Signs and Symptoms of Osmophobia

There are multiple signs and symptoms for osmophobia. The condition of osmophobia uses much of ones energy while trying to keep off the odors, besides making difficult when accomplishing the usual daily tasks and activities. For osmophobia, symptoms vary from one individual to another, depending on the level of your fear. A person can be physically ill from osmophobia, just like with any phobia, when combined with anxiety symptoms.

Smell sense is greatly personalized, to an extent that whatever smells awesome to you might smell terrible to someone else. Furthermore, past experience memories are related to odors. For example if you smell your grandmother’s favorite perfume or flowers that glow the day you proposed for marriage to your girlfriend can initiate a flood of positive memories quickly. Similarly, individuals suffering from osmophobia can easily be triggered a variety of likely scents.

Osmophobia symptoms might range from feelings of anxiety and apprehension, to a greater panic attack. Normally, your fears increases with how close you get to things that makes you afraid. Also, the fears rise if you cannot easily move from the things which make you afraid. Osmophobia physical signs and symptoms include:

  • Breathing difficulty
  • The heart pounds or race heavily
  • Tightness or pain in the chest
  • An individual trembles or shakes
  • Dizziness
  • The stomach churns
  • Profuse sweating
  • Hot and cold flashes.

Osmophobia emotional signs and symptoms include:

  • An overpowering feeling from anxiety or panic.
  • An intense feeling on need to escape.
  • You feel detached from the real you.
  • You fear going crazy or losing your cool.
  • You get a feeling that you might die.
  • You overreact knowingly, but you have a powerless feeling to control your anxiety.

Possible signs and symptoms that might occur, regardless of the type of phobia you have include:

  • When facing the source of your fear, you get a feeling of uncontrollable terror, panic and dread.
  • You get a feeling that you must use any means possible, to keep off anything you fear.
  • Your anxiety makes you unable to work normally.
  • You experience physical and psychological reactions, which include: Rapid heartbeat, sweating, breathing difficulty, and a feeling of panic and extreme anxiety.
  • An often knowledge that your fears are not reasonable or they are exaggerated, yet you feel powerless to control the fears.
  • In other cases, you experience anxiety and think only about things you fear.
  • For children, there is possibility of tantrums, clinging or even crying.

When Should you See a Doctor for Osmophobia?

Any unreasonable fear is annoying. For example taking stairs instead of an elevator can be annoying, but cannot be considered as a phobia until it affects your life. You should seek medical or psychological medication, if your anxiety because of osmophobia is affecting your capability to perform at work and socially. However, most people are helped by the use of therapy.

Your doctor may ask you some questions, which you should be ready to answer and focus on important points that you need covered in details. These questions related to the osmophobia include:

  • Do you use alcohol or illegal drugs and how often do you use them?
  • Have you ever had the thoughts of harming yourself?
  • Have you ever had any medication on psychiatric symptoms or any mental illness? If yes, which type of therapy was beneficial to you?
  • Any medical condition that you have been diagnosed with?
  • Do you have any concern that we have not discussed about?
  • Are your symptoms affecting your life and people close to you?
  • Is there any place or situation that you avoid due to fear of triggering your osmophobia symptoms?
  • Is there anything that makes your osmophobia symptoms better or worse?
  • When do your osmophobia symptoms occur?
  • When did you notice the first symptom of osmophobia?
  • Have you experienced a recent a spell or attack that made you feel anxious, frightened or totally uneasy all over sudden?
  • Have you been feeling nervous, on edge or anxious at recent times?
  • During your attacks of fear and anxiety, have you ever experienced difficulty in breathing or any chest pain?

Risk Factors for Osmophobia

Factors that may increase your risks of osmophobia include:

  • Age is a risk factor for osmophobia. Phobia is known to occur at an early life, which is mainly age 13. However, specific phobias express themselves at childhood, normally at the age of 10.
  • If any of your family members has a certain phobia, such as fear of smells, you are at a high chance of developing the phobia too. The situation can be an inherited tendency, or through learning, where children learn by observing one of the family members osmophobic response to a situation or an object.
  • Temperament of the person can be a risk factor for osmophobia. If you are more negative, inhibited or sensitive than normal, your risk of osmophobia might increase.
  • Traumatic events can be risk factor for osmophobia. If you experience a traumatic situation such an attack by an animal, smell of blood etc… your development of osmophobia may be initiated.

Complications in Osmophobia

In some cases, osmophobia might be appear silly to some people, but devastating to persons with them, hence resulting to problems that might affect their aspects of life. Some of the complications of osmophobia includes:

  • Social isolation is a complication of osmophobia. By avoiding places you fear, you might experience relationship, academic and professional challenges. Children possessing osmophobia are at a higher risk of academic challenges and loneliness, since they might not develop quality social skills.
  • Depression can be a complication of osmophobia. Most individuals having phobias are known to have depression and other anxiety disorders.
  • You might abuse a substance, as a result of living with osmophobia.
  • Suicide is also a possible complication of osmophobia. Some certain phobias put individuals living with them at risk of committing suicide.

Tests to Diagnose Osmophobia

Although there are no lab tests for osmophobia, there are diagnosis that is conducted through thorough clinical interviews and guidelines to diagnose. Your doctor asks you questions concerning the osmophobia symptoms, and takes a medical, social history and psychiatric history.

For an individual to be diagnosed with a phobia like osmophobia, he/ she must meet specific criteria, found in the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorder, publication of American Psychiatric Association. Health providers use the manual to diagnose situations, while insurance companies use it for reimbursement of treatment.

Diagnostic categories of specific phobias such as osmophobia include:

  • Extreme fear or anxiety, that is initiated by a smell, situation or an object, such as storms or snakes.
  • When confronting the source of your fear, there is a quick anxiety reaction.
  • You experience fear or anxiety that is not equal to the risk weight of the object or the situation.
  • You either avoid objects or situations that you fear, or endure the situation with total distress.
  • There is persistent phobia or avoidance that usually last for six months or more.
  • You experience total challenges with social activities, work and other areas of your life, resulting from fear, avoidance and anxiety.

Treatment for Osmophobia

Although osmophobia can be cured, there is no treatment that is guaranteed to function for osmophobia. You might be recommended to combine different treatments for osmophobia. However, the main treatment types for osmophobia include:

  1. Psychotherapy or Talk treatment.
  2. Medication treatment.
  3. Use of self-help techniques.
  1. Psychotherapy or Talk Treatment for Osmophobia

    Talking treatments are the most effective means of treating osmophobia. These methods include: counseling and psychotherapy. Also, cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is a good means of treating osmophobia.

    Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) for Osmophobia

    Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) for osmophobia is a type of counseling treatment which helps you control your challenges through changing how you behave, and your way of thinking. You can use the method to develop practical means of handling your osmophobia. The major part of the CBT, which is mainly used to treat phobias like osmophobia, incorporates a gradual exposure to your osmophobia, which makes you less anxious. The process is known as exposure therapy or desensitization.

    For example, when you have fear of smells, your therapist introduces you by making sure you read about different types of smells and odors. The therapist might later go ahead in a step by step process and over a period of time your therapist would ensure you handle different smells and odors with panicking and becoming anxious.

    The exposure therapy works by exposing you to your fear at an increased level, which enables you gain confidence against your osmophobia. Your osmophobia should start feeling less anxious as treatment goes on.

    It is against The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), to treat specific phobias in adults, by use of computerized CBT.

  2. Medication Treatment for Osmophobia

    Treatment of osmophobia using medication is not recommended, as therapy treatments for osmophobia are effective and have no side effects. However, in other cases, medicines are prescribed but on a short-term basis, for treatment of effects of osmophobia which includes anxiety.

    There are three types of medication, which are recommended while treating anxiety. These include:

    • Use of antidepressants
    • Beta-blockers
    • Tranquillizers

    Antidepressants for Osmophobia

    These are mostly prescribed in order to help in reducing anxiety caused by osmophobia, while selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors are mostly prescribed for treatment of social phobia, anxiety and panic disorder. They include:

    • Escitalopram
    • Sertaline
    • Paroxetine

    Also, Venlafaxine which is a serotonin and noradrenalin reuptake inhibitor (SNRI) may be prescribed.

    Common side effects resulting from the treatments include:

    • Nausea
    • Headaches
    • Stomach upset
    • Problems arising from sleep

    The effects can initially worsen your anxiety, besides causing sexual problems.

    Another antidepressant that is licensed to treat osmophobia is Clomipramine, also known as Anafranil. Its side effects include:

    • Mouth getting dry
    • Obscured vision
    • Shaking
    • Drowsiness
    • Irregular heartbeat
    • Constipation
    • Urinating difficulties

    In case antidepressants are prescribed to you, it is recommended not to stop taking them suddenly, as it can cause withdrawal symptoms. You should see your general physician, who will help you lower your dose gradually.

    Tranquillizers for Osmophobia

    Some group medicines, such as Benzodiazepines, are grouped as minor tranquillizers. These include medicines such as; diazepam which is also known as valium. The medicine are used are used on short term basis at lower doses to treat extreme anxiety caused by osmophobia. Just like antidepressants, you should stop using the medicine gradually, to prevent withdrawal symptoms.

    Beta-blockers for Osmophobia

    These are often used for treatment of cardiovascular conditions which include; hypertension and heart problems. They are at times prescribed, to aid in minimizing the symptoms of anxiety caused by osmophobia, such as irregular heartbeat.

    These medicines normally reduce your heart rate, as well as decreasing your blood pressure. The most commonly used beta-blocker for treatment of anxiety is Propranolol, which is also known as Inderal. The likely side effects from beta-blockers include:

    • Cold fingers
    • Tiredness
    • Stomach problems
    • Sleep problems.
  3. Self Help for Osmophobia

    Every single self-help program for osmophobia works differently for everyone, hence the need to develop your own self-help strategy, but if possible you should get assistance from mental health specialist such as a psychologist.

    A good self-help program for osmophobia includes:

    1. Changing of the lifestyle.
    2. Attending a self-help group and be a member.
    3. Overcoming your osmophobia by use of exposure therapy.
    4. Combining the above to get better results.
    1. Changing of lifestyle for Osmophobia

      By making simple adjustments to your lifestyle, you can minimize the symptoms of your osmophobia such as panic attacks. Some of the changes include:

      • Exercising regularly is a good self-help strategy.
      • Eating regular meals that are healthy.
      • Having enough sleep.
      • Keeping off or reducing the intake of caffeine and other stimulants.
    2. Exposure Therapy for Osmophobia

      Exposure therapy is also known as desensitization. It involves increasing the duration of time you are exposed to your osmophobia gradually. Exposure therapy is an effective way of ensuring you cope with your anxiety.

    3. Other Self-Help Techniques for Osmophobia

      There are other self-help techniques for osmophobia, which include:

      • Relaxation is a good self-help technique for osmophobia. You should take a series of physical exercises, that will help you to relax and control your breathe.
      • Visualization can also be a self-help technique for osmophobia. The technique combines relaxation and breathing techniques, as you visualize mentally on how to deal properly with a situation that might lead to anxiety.
      • Self-help groups are highly useful for osmophobia. It is a beneficial way of meeting other individuals with similar problems or experiences, and sharing the different means of coping with the situations. Support groups are highly effective, since patients meets and share with individuals who have the same challenges. It is in such groups that you take major recovery, since you compare stories and share tips on how deal or overcome the phobia with the group members.

Alternative Treatment for Osmophobia

Alternative treatment options for osmophobia incudes hypnotherapy, neuro linguistic programming and energy psychology.

It is well known that there are many types of phobias. Seeing as psychologist, psychiatrist, hypnotherapist or hypnotist is the most popular means of treating osmophobia. These doctors help an individual cope with the osmophobia, or determine the cause of the osmophobia, in order to resolve it. Below are some of the alternative treatments for osmophobia that might be recommended.

  1. Hypnoanalysis or Hypnotherapy for Osmophobia

    Hypnoanaysis or hypnotherapy can be used as an alternative treatment for osmophobia. It is a type of therapy for osmophobia where an individual’s subconscious mind is opened to suggestions, by the help of a trained specialist, with the aim of changing his/her behavior patterns. Speaking subconscious directly to them may find the issue initiating their osmophobia, as well as introducing new ideas and positive suggestions. It is these positive suggestions that are later used to make the desired changes.

    With several sessions, you can teach their mind to attach different feelings linked to the smells causing their osmophobia. Although some people do not like other playing with their minds, hypnotherapy is regarded as safe and working faster. Hypnotherapy was approved as means of therapy in 1958, by American medical association.

  2. Neuro-linguistic Programming or NLP for Osmophobia

    NLP or neuro linguistic programming can be used as an alternative for osmophobia. It is mainly study and practice on ways of creating our reality. The primary argument of NLP is that the inner and subconscious perception of an individual is reflected by the kind of words he/she use. If the words and perception used are inaccurate, they create a basic problem so long as the words are being used and thought of. The attitudes of an individual are in a sense, a self-fulfilling prediction.

    Neuro-linguistic Programming or NLP kind of therapy for osmophobia, a neuro linguistic therapist analyzes every word and phrase you use as you describe your symptoms or health concerns. Also, the therapist examines your body movements, as well as your facial expressions. It is after finding problems in your perception that the therapist will help you understand the major cause. The therapist then helps you to remold your mind, as way of trying to correct your pre-developed notions. The notions might be hindering you from achieving the success you deserve.

  3. Energy Psychology for Osmophobia

    Energy psychology for osmophobia is an alternative treatment technique using different techniques which include: acupressure, prana, energy medicine and qi gong. These techniques teach people some simple steps to adopt in making changes in their lives. The techniques work by stimulating energy points on the skin surface, which pairs with certain psychological methods to shift the brains electrochemistry. Although the technique seems to be controversial, it appears to an effective way of dealing with phobias such as osmophobia.

Coping with Osmophobia

You should not become a prisoner to your fear of smell, since you can easily manage or overcome your osmophobia effectively, with professional treatment. You can also cope with osmophobia and care for yourself, by taking some steps which include:

  • Not avoiding feared situations triggered by osmophobia. You work on this with the help of therapist, friend and families.
  • Getting enough rest, eating healthy diets and being physically active each day.
  • Taking medication as prescribed is a good way to cope with osmophobia and talk to your healthcare provider before stopping medication, to avoid withdrawal symptoms of osmophobia.
  • Reach out and join self-help or support groups for osmophobia, in order to easily connect with individuals with similar challenges.

How to Help Your Child Cope with Osmophobia?

You should talk to your doctor, if your child has persistent and excessive fear of smell, which is limiting his/her capability to perform in daily life. In order to help your child cope with osmophobia, you should;

  • Be open while talking about osmophobia, without trivializing the challenge or belittling your child because of being afraid. You should let your child to know you will listen and help.
  • Avoid reinforcing osmophobia, and take the advantage of the chance to help your child overcome osmophobia. You should help the child cope with smells when confronted, if she/ he fears smells.
  • Demonstrate osmophobia to your children, then show them how to overcome.

Prevention of Osmophobia

If you suffer from unreasonable fear of smell, you should seek psychological help, to avoid passing it to your children because your children might get the osmophobia either by genetics or by just watching you suffer from osmophobia can trigger phobia in children.

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:

, MD, FFARCSI

Last Modified On: June 30, 2016

Pain Assist Inc.

Pramod Kerkar
  Note: Information provided is not a substitute for physician, hospital or any form of medical care. Examination and Investigation is necessary for correct diagnosis.

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