Dysosmia (Disordered Smell Perception)

People with dysosmia have a distorted sense of smell. This distortion can show up in several ways. Dysosmia may be temporary or last for months. Smell changes may go away on their own or require treatment.

Overview

What is the definition of dysosmia?

Dysosmia refers to a change in your ability to smell. There are two types of smell changes associated with dysosmia:

  • Parosmia: The smell of a familiar object has changed, or something that usually smells pleasant now has an unpleasant scent. For example, coffee suddenly smells like gasoline or garbage.
  • Phantosmia: You smell something that isn’t there, like a rotten odor, cigarette smoke or chemicals like ammonia.

What other smell changes do people experience?

Besides dysosmia, other smell changes include:

  • Anosmia, when you completely lose your sense of smell.
  • Hyposmia, a decline in your ability to smell.

Can people with dysosmia also experience taste changes?

Yes, people can also experience changes in their ability to taste, including:

Does COVID-19 cause dysosmia?

Yes, COVID-19 can cause dysosmia. Some people with COVID-19 report that familiar objects smell like sewage, rotten eggs or meat, citrus and moldy socks. Others say they smell burnt toast or unique scents.

How long does dysosmia last?

Dysosmia may last anywhere from a week to a few months. In some severe cases, dysosmia may be permanent. Even people with the same cause of dysosmia can have different recovery times. For example, some people with COVID-19 stop experiencing dysosmia within three weeks, while others may recover after several months.

Is dysosmia permanent?

Dysosmia usually isn’t permanent and goes away within months. The duration depends on the underlying condition that caused your smell changes.

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Possible Causes

What causes dysosmia?

There are many dysosmia causes, including:

Care and Treatment

How is dysosmia treated?

In many cases, dysosmia spontaneously goes away on its own. Other times, dysosmia treatment depends on the underlying cause. For example, your healthcare provider may surgically remove nasal polyps or prescribe antibiotics for a sinus infection.

Some experts believe that smell retraining therapy (SRT) may help. In SRT, you smell strong scents several times a day for several months to help your brain relearn how to smell.

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Can I prevent dysosmia?

Because dysosmia has various causes, it’s not always possible to prevent it. But you can take some measures to reduce your risk and stay healthy:

When To Call the Doctor

When should I see a healthcare provider for dysosmia?

Dysosmia is a symptom of many different conditions. If your smell changes last longer than a week or two, see your healthcare provider for a thorough evaluation and diagnosis.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Dysosmia refers to a change in your sense of smell. Familiar objects may smell different or unpleasant or you may notice scents that aren’t there, such as cigarette smoke. Many conditions can cause dysosmia. See your healthcare provider if your smell changes don’t go away after a couple of weeks.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 04/19/2022.

Learn more about our editorial process.

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