Smell or olfactory sensitivity can take the form of heightened and/or reduced sensitivity to smells. If we are hypersensitive to a smell it is too intense, repulsive, abhorrent. If we are hyposensitive then we are baffled by others’ ability to smell it when we can smell literally nothing.

Smell sensitivity is not exclusive to neurodivergent people but it is an incredibly common experience for us. Additionally, we can be both hyper and hypo sensitive to certain smells. We confidently announce that we only to find that being in a candle shop is so overwhelming we have to leave before we heave.

Smell is one of our eight key senses and these work in conjunction with each other, so smell sensitivity is closely related to taste sensitivity. Often it’s impossible to separate these two.

Signs of olfactory sensitivity may include some of these, all of these, and are not limited to the following:

Hypersensitive examples

  • Intense smells, that others may find extremely enjoyable – such as coffee beans or strong-smelling foods, make us feel nauseous and give us headaches.
  • Shops that specialise in scented candles, scented soap or perfume are abhorrent to us to the point where we have to hold our breath or leave.
  • We may feel ‘unreasonably’ angry when someone we pass in the street wafts the most overwhelming perfume.
  • We may find ourselves unable to concentrate on the task in hand if there is a smell that we find intolerable.

Hyposensitive examples

  • While others are exclaiming over the dreadful noxious smell in the air, we are left wondering what all the fuss is about!
  • We can be known to enjoy smelling objects, smelling people… it seems weird from the outside but we need that close up sensory input in order to experience it.
  • A big downside to hyposensitivity is that we lack the warning signs that we are about to eat or drink something that is NOT good for us. This could be milk that’s gone off or a drink that has been spiked. We just can’t smell what we can’t smell. It’s not a lack of vigilance, it’s a lack of activation within our brains. The point is, we don’t have control over it.

Please see the glossary entries for → hypersensitivity and → hyposensitivity for more general information.