What is that smell?

It may not seem like an especially concerning or troublesome symptom. After all, what's the big deal about having superpower smelling abilities? You can smell the flowers, the gourmet food, and the freshly brewed coffee better than anyone else. But, for many patients hyperosmia is not a blessing and is more than a simple annoyance. It can cause extreme discomfort, even making patients sick at times.

by Daniel J. Cameron, MD, MPH

Research studies examining impaired or heightened sense of smell have been focused primarily on patients suffering from neurological disorders, like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Only recently, have researchers begun to investigate the connection between olfactory disorders and autoimmune diseases. 

And, while there have been many anecdotal reports from Lyme disease patients complaining about their sensitivity to smells, there has never been a study examining the association between Lyme disease and hyperosmia — until now.

Nose

Study finds 50% of patients with Lyme disease reported having a heightened sense of smell, also called hyperosmia.

After administering questionnaires to 16 serologically positive Lyme disease patients and 18 control subjects, researchers found that 50% of the patients with Lyme disease suffered from hyperosmia, versus none of the control subjects. The findings were published in the Arquivos de Neuro-Psiquiatria Journal. 

“The high prevalence of this olfactory disorder found in our study suggests the need for further studies of olfactory function in this disease,” concludes the authors. “It would also be of interest to carry out longitudinal studies to evaluate the response of hyperosmia to antibiotic pharmacotherapy.”

In my own unofficial Facebook poll, 86% of the 22 responders reported experiencing difficulties with smell after their Lyme disease diagnosis.

In contrast, a decreased sense of smell, hyposmia, has been described in patients diagnosed with Fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia patients had “significantly lower thresholds of smell compared to healthy controls.” The investigators did not address hyperosmia.

Hyposmia was observed in 42 % patients with Fibromyalgia compared to 15 % of patients with systemic sclerosis and 4% of the healthy controls. “Our findings suggest that there is a decrease in the sense of smell both in Fibromyalgia and systemic sclerosis patients compared with healthy controls.”

Although having an altered ability to smell, whether lessened or heightened, may seem insignificant, these studies are a reminder of how vast the presentations can be in Lyme disease patients. And, how much more we still have to learn about this disease.


4 Replies to "What is that smell?"

  • mimi
    06/26/2015 (2:12 pm)
    Reply

    

    FYI–due to the ravages of tick-borne disease–I am totally blind,hard-of-hearing, and have lost touch sensitivity in my fingers and feet. But–boy–I sure have developed an incredible sense of smell! With so much sensory deprivation in other areas, I find this heightened sensitivity to odors not a curse–but a blessing. Although I want to puke when I pass through the perfumed laundry section of the grocery store, my super smeller has saved my life in a variety of ways over the years of traveling up and down the Lyme road. Maybe the police and other officers of authority should hire me as a dog “sniffer.” (Smile!)

    Mimi

    “…just when the caterpillar thought her life was over she became a butterfly.”

  • Mimi
    06/26/2015 (2:23 pm)
    Reply

    FYI–due to the ravages of tick-borne disease–I am totally blind,hard-of-hearing, and have lost touch sensitivity in my fingers and feet. But–boy–I sure have developed an incredible sense of smell! With so much sensory deprivation in other areas, I find this heightened sensitivity to odors not a curse–but a blessing. Although I want to puke when I pass through the perfumed laundry section of the grocery store, my super smeller has saved my life in a variety of ways over the years of traveling up and down the Lyme road. Maybe the police and other officers of authority should hire me as a dog “sniffer.” (Smile!)

    Mimi

  • Shelly Wilson
    07/16/2015 (11:21 pm)
    Reply

    I have SLE and fibromyalgia and I have a heightened sense of smell. When I was able to work I had to ask co workers to limit their use of perfumes or lotions because I would literally stay nauseous all day long. It was very distracting working as an accountant as I was running to the restroom to vomit quite regularly.

  • Sally
    08/13/2017 (9:17 am)
    Reply

    I have heightened sensee of smell since being bitten by ticks. The ELISA lyme tests are negative, but I had 3 bulls eye rashes. They wrongly diagnosed me with paranoid schizophrenia. I am now convinced I do have lyme disease 24 years later… late stage lyme, as recently lots of other symptoms are emerging. Thank you for posting this very important piece of information.


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