Why Does our Sense of Smell Changes with Fibromyalgia?

By: Marcia Frost

The symptoms of fibromyalgia can be overwhelming for someone to deal with. Chronic pain, fatigue, and brain fog are just a few of the problems that can easily be set off and worsen into a flare that lasts a day, a week, or even a month. It doesn’t take much for this to happen. Sometimes it can even be caused by something as simple as an odor in the air that’s not bothering anyone else.

The sensitive syndrome

Fibromyalgia patients are often referred to like the overly sensitive and that is a rather accurate label. It’s a fact many with the syndrome deal with in their daily lives. Sensitivity to temperature changes, light, noise, touch, and smell is not uncommon with FMS. Lighting that may seem normal to the healthy individual can cause headaches and pain and digestive issues if you have fibromyalgia. Florescent lights, in particular, can cause major problems. The same can be said of noises and smells that others don’t even notice.

Hypersensitivity works in many ways with fibromyalgia. While one person with FMS may find an odor or sound overwhelming, another may have difficulty smelling or hearing it correctly. It’s all about how the fibromyalgia brain processes things, which is unlike it does for others. All of this sensory overload can have an effect on quality of life.

Fortunately, there are some medications that may help in some cases, so be sure to mention it all to your doctor. If it is severe enough, you may be diagnosed with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS), which can often accompany fibromyalgia and may require a different treatment.

How smells affect someone with fibromyalgia

An olfactory (sense of smell) impairment is not uncommon with many autoimmune diseases and fibromyalgia. It is detrimental to more than the feeling in your nose. Scented perfumes, detergents, and cleaning agents can make someone with FMS feel ill with everything from fatigue to nausea and headaches. Foods smells can also make the fibromyalgia sufferer so sick they don’t want to eat anything, or start eliminating certain foods from their diet, even if they are healthy items.

Issues with smells in fibromyalgia have nothing to do with allergies so you can’t just take an antihistamine and wait for it to go away. This problem with the sense of smell can be so severe that those affected don’t want to go out in public, where someone’s aftershave can get you ill, or an air freshener can make you feel like you want to faint.

Avoiding smells with fibromyalgia

If you have fibromyalgia and are dealing sensitivity to smells, there are things you can do to help improve your quality of life. In your home, keep everything unscented, from soaps to cleaning agents, to detergents. Look for shampoos and hairsprays which are unscented. Keep a mask handy so if you do need to handle something with a strong odor you can avoid it bothering you as much. Also, make sure visitors know in advance they shouldn’t wear cologne in your house. After a while, your friends should be aware of this, but don’t feel bad about reminding them. It’s your health that is at stake.

Make sure your house is well-ventilated. Fans will only help in a room which is odor-free. If not, you’ll just be spreading the smells around. When you are cooking meals, experiment with different herbs that don’t have such intense smells. You might want to use more basil and less cumin, for example. You’ll also find some scents may be more comforting than bothersome to you, such as vanilla or cinnamon, and you’ll want to use them more. Take it one smell at a time.

Some studies have even indicated that physical activity may improve the sense of smell in fibromyalgia, as well as the pain and fatigue. Adding a little more walking, some yoga or tai chi in your life could help the body, mind – and nose.

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2 thoughts on “Why Does our Sense of Smell Changes with Fibromyalgia?”

  1. OMG…I thought I had developed an allergy to scents. Maybe its my fibro! I get very ill with scents, its getting so I can’t go out for fear of coming upon some one wearing scent. It will lay me up for a day or two.

    I used to love perfume and would buy high quality fragrances from France. I apologize now to everyone I’ve made ill.

    God forbid I go to a WalMart on a Sunday afternoon when all the church ladies are there shopping, Men’s cologne or after shave ugh.

    I used to have a highly developed scent. I could even smell if there were ants in a home. They smell like Sulphur btw. Now I’ve lost my sense of smell. I can’t smell vanilla. Nothing. A void. And more scents are going.
    But the scents I do smell make me violently ill. Not a great trade off.

    I had no idea these could be connected to Fibro. Its the ‘gift’ that keeps on giving.

  2. Take more exercise! That’s one thing to be careful with. Repetitive movements like walking, swimming, exercise, ironing, vacuuming etc all cause pain! Little and often is the best way.

    Can’t stand onions, bacon, ham, pork! Thank you for pointing this out. I thought I was just weird!

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