Parosmia is where smells appear distorted, often unpleasant. It's not a permanent or harmful condition but distorted smell can be difficult to live with, affecting eating, relationships and mood.

Parosmia the term used for an abnormality or distortion of smell.

It's commonly experienced by people who are recovering their sense of smell following loss from a virus or injury, and seems to be a normal part of the recovery process in most people.

Parosmia is not harmful in itself, and it is usually a temporary condition, although it can continue for many weeks.

But the symptoms of parosmia are no fun. They can seriously affect eating patterns and diet as people seek to avoid foods that trigger foul smells. They can even affect relationships with others, and lead to feelings of low mood or depression. AbScent has lots of resources to help you through this difficult time.

Go to NoseWell for tips and practical advice on living with parosmia.

Tips and advice

Find out more in our insights into parosmia

Understanding parosmia

Can you enjoy coffee and chocolate again?

Why do cooking smells make me gag?

What causes parosmia?

Research suggests that parosmia is triggered by certain odour molecules when they reach the receptors in the nose. Studies have so far identified two types of molecules, one containing sulfur and one containing nitrogen, as the triggers for parosmia. These same basic molecules are found in lots of different and diverse foods.

Scientists still don't really understand which odour receptors in the nose these molecules link to, or why these molecules have such a powerful effect on recovering olfactory neurons. Research continues to improve understanding and develop potential treatment.

There is no medication for parosmia. Smell training is demonstrated to be helpful in supporting the recovery process, but it doesn't 'cure' parosmia.

Parosmia triggers

Everyone with parosmia has a slightly different experience, but some smells seem to act as triggers for most people: 

  • Coffee

  • Onions

  • Chocolate

  • Garlic

  • Eggs

  • Roasting, frying, and grilling

Managing parosmia

Living with symptoms of parosmia can be frightening at first. It changes the way you interpret the world around you and familiar things become alien. This can be confusing and disheartening, as so much of what we enjoy in life comes through the sense of smell.

Researchers suggest one of the best ways to cope with this condition is to become your own detective. Finding triggers and patterns, and experimenting with what works - and doesn't work - for you can make life with parosmia more manageable.

Here's some of our favourite links to help you find what works for you:

Eating and cooking 

The Altered Eating Network led by Dr Duika Burges-Watson has lots of good advice on what and how to eat with parosmia. 

Our Blog has featured lots of advice shared by Duika and her team. AbScent Presents shares practical advice on overcoming some of the challenges.

Wellbeing and low mood

Low mood and depression are very common in people with altered smell. Prof Barry Smith explored this aspect in a recent webinar.

Doctors agree that connecting with others going through the same experience can really help. The AbScent Network has been set up so we can learn from and support each other.