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, leading to feelings of low mood or depression.

Common parosmia triggers

Everyone with parosmia will experience it differently, but there are a few smells that are regularly reported to trigger parosmia:

  • Roasted, toasted, grilled or fried foods
  • Coffee
  • Onions
  • Chocolate
  • Garlic
  • Eggs

What causes parosmia?

This is still an area of research and we've got a lot to learn about why some people experience these strange and disgusting smells as their sense of smell recovers. Current research is looking at the damage caused to olfactory neurons when the delicate and complex structure in the nose is attacked by a virus. As these neurons repair themselves, the chemical signals they send to the brain seem to be confused in some way and the normal patterns that are recognised as 'a smell' are not being picked up by the brain.

Researchers and clinicians around the world continue to explore this area and we'll keep you updated as new research is published.

What treatment is available for parosmia?

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

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 share by Duika and her team. AbScent Presents shared 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.

Explore the science

AbScent is closely involved with research projects to improve our understanding of parosmia. Keep up with the fast-paced developments in this area.