Our olfactory system lives on a spectrum of smell-ability. If you’re not sure where you lie, it’s recommended that you see a doctor to get a professional evaluation.
In the meantime, below are the definitions of types of smell function to help you make a general assessment.
Normosmia [ normal olfactory function ]
We begin with normosmia, the ability to detect and correctly identify odors, as this is the baseline for assessing any smell dysfunction. All doctor-administered smell tests will evaluate your results based on normative data from healthy smellers by age, sex, and, in many cases, even country.
You likely have a healthy sense of smell if you are able to detect odors at a fairly low concentration, you can tell the difference between two odors, and you are able to name the odor.
Hyposmia [ weak olfactory function ]
If you have a poor ability to detect and correctly identify odors then you may have hyposmia. In an olfactory test, hyposmia indicates an absolute score below the 10th percentile of the baseline normosmic group. Note that, even within hyposmia, there’s a further delineation into mild, moderate, or severe.
You likely have a weak sense of smell if you are unable to detect odors at relatively low concentrations, you have difficulty differentiating between two odors, and you struggle to name the odor.
Anosmia [ no olfactory function ]
Anosmia is defined as an absence of olfaction with an inability to detect and correctly identify odors. There are generally two types of anosmia: congenital anosmia and acquired anosmia. A third type, called functional anosmia, refers to the possible existence of trace olfactory function, but at a level not considered useful or noticeable in daily life.
If you’ve never been able to smell, presumably since birth, you have what is called congenital anosmia. If you’ve lost your sense of smell at some point in your life, you have what is called acquired anosmia.
You have no sense of smell if you are unable to detect odors at any concentration, you can’t differentiate between two odors, and you can’t name the odor. Another clear indicator is that you're only able to detect the salty, sweet, bitter, sour, and umami aspects of food. This means your sense of taste is working, but your sense of smell is not.
Hyperosmia [ heightened olfactory function ]
If you have an overwhelming sensitivity to odors, to the extent that even subtle odors interfere with daily living, you may have hyperosmia. This rare, and understudied, smell dysfunction can also affect your taste.
You may have a heightened sense of smell if you are able to detect odors at extremely low concentrations, you can easily differentiate between two odors, and you are able to name the odor.
Parosmia [ distorted olfactory function ]
If you have a distorted perception of smell in the presence of an odor object then you may have parosmia. Unlike the osmias above, parosmia is a qualitative dysfunction, meaning that you’re perceiving the characteristics of the odor, as opposed to the amount of the odor. Common descriptions of odors include “burnt,” “garbage,” “disgusting,” and “fecal.” The experiences can range from simply “strange’ to inciting strong reactions like nausea and vomiting, or worse, not being able to eat.
You may have a distorted sense of smell if you smell an object or environment and you perceive it differently to what you normally would.
Phantosmia [ phantom olfactory function ]
If you perceive odors without there being an external stimulus, you may have phantosmia. Just like parosmia, phantosmia is a qualitative dysfunction, but here the perception can occur at any time. You may perceive something as “burnt,” “chemical,” or “like cigarette smoke.” It’s possible for a person to have both parosmia and phantosmia.
You may experience phantosmia if you smell something in the air (you might ask another person if they smell what you smell, and they don’t) and you can’t identify the source.
You're in the right place
Maybe you have one of these smell dysfunctions and you don't know where to turn.
First, know that this condition does not define you.
It's simply a thing that you have.
And you are not alone.
There are millions of people around the world who can't smell, have weak smell, distorted smell, or phantom smells.
Please breathe easy. Community is everywhere.
Get my free smell dysfunction resource guide to connect with people who understand. 👇
Smell Dysfunction Resource Guide
Here's What To Do Next
1.) Visit your doctor or ENT and get your sense of smell clinically assessed. Often we believe we have one thing, only to find out it's another. When you have an official diagnosis you know exactly where you stand, and you can determine what to do next.
2.) Find your community. There's strength in knowing you aren't alone and you have others who are going through this too; people you can turn to. Get my free smell dysfunction resource guide (above) to find your strength and comfort.
3.) Enlist the support of family and friends. Smell dysfunctions are invisible and, unfortunately, most people can't relate to what you're going through. Knowing that you have loved ones you can turn to for help when things get hard is invaluable. Don't feel you have to do it alone.
4.) Learn if smell training is an option for you. Scientific studies have confirmed that smell training is an easy, low-cost therapy you can do at home. See if smell training is right for you.