Phobias Types Managing Osmophobia or the Fear of Smells By Lisa Fritscher Lisa Fritscher Lisa Fritscher is a freelance writer and editor with a deep interest in phobias and other mental health topics. Learn about our editorial process Updated on May 02, 2020 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Shaheen Lakhan, MD, PhD, FAAN Medically reviewed by Shaheen Lakhan, MD, PhD, FAAN Shaheen Lakhan, MD, PhD, is an award-winning physician-scientist and clinical development specialist. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print Peopleimages/Getty Images Osmophobia, defined in medical dictionaries as a morbid fear of smells, is relatively rare as a stand-alone phobia. However, it is fairly common among those who suffer from migraine headaches. Some migraine sufferers report that their headaches are triggered by strong scents. Understandably, this connection could lead to a fear of smells. Regardless of whether or not headaches are present, however, osmophobia can feel overwhelming. However, osmophobia is more than just a fear. It is a true phobia whereby fear becomes extreme, and in some cases, irrational. Phobias can have debilitating effects on sufferers that interfere with their ability to complete daily activities. Osmophobia and Migraines A 2015 Brazilian study found that of 235 patients with headaches, 147 patients were diagnosed with migraines and 53 percent of the migraine sufferers had osmophobia. The study also found that among the headache patients, those with migraines and a significant number of years of headache history presented more signs of osmophobia. In some cases, a certain smell can trigger a migraine in the population prone to these severe headaches. Triggers The sense of smell is highly personalized, and what smells wonderful to one person might smell terrible to the next. In addition, odors are heavily linked to memories of past experiences. Smelling Grandma's favorite perfume or the flowers that were in bloom the day you proposed to your wife can trigger a sudden flood of positive memories. Likewise, those suffering from osmophobia may be triggered by a wide range of possible scents. Symptoms Extreme anxietyDry mouthRapid breathingIrregular heartbeatNauseaExcessive sweatingInability to articulate words or sentencesShaking or tremblingShortness of breath Osmophobia and Other Disorders Besides migraines, osmophobia is sometimes related to other disorders. For example, those with chemophobia, or the fear of chemicals, may have a strong aversion to any chemical odor. People with a fear of animals might react strongly to any animal scents. Those who are afraid of water may be sensitive to the smell of the ocean. Management Like any phobia, osmophobia that is unrelated to a medical condition generally responds well to a variety of therapeutic techniques. Systematic desensitization, in which you are gradually exposed to the feared scent, is particularly helpful. If your osmophobia is related to migraines, however, let your therapist know. Your doctor will need to be involved in your treatment to ensure that you do not worsen your headaches. Other Treatments Cognitive Behavioral Therapy helps patients recognize their triggers and helps develop coping techniques Medications used to treat anxiety Meditation and relaxation techniques Exposure therapy Psychotherapy Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Mainardi F, Maggioni F, Zanchin G. Smell of Migraine: Osmophobia as a Clinical Diagnostic Marker? Cephalalgia. 2016 Jul 4. pii: 0333102416658710. [Epub ahead of print] Rocha-Filho PA, Marques KS, Torres RC, Leal KN. Osmophobia and Headaches in Primary Care: Prevalence, Associated Factors, and Importance in Diagnosing Migraine. Headache. 2015 Jun;55(6):840-5. doi: 10.1111/head.12577. By Lisa Fritscher Lisa Fritscher is a freelance writer and editor with a deep interest in phobias and other mental health topics. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Speak to a Therapist for Phobias Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.