If you were ever pregnant and experienced changes in your sense of smell, guess what? It may happen again when you are in perimenopause or menopause. If you were never pregnant, changes in your sense of smell may be new to you.
Can you smell someone’s perfume from across the room but no one else can? Did you once enjoy the fragrance of fresh brewed coffee but now it makes you gag? Are some very mild aromas overpowering for you? What’s going on with your sense of smell?
What is the sense of smell?
Sense of smell, or olfaction, is the ability to recognize and perceive odors and scents. Your sense of smell plays an important part in your health, as it allows you to detect hazards, pheromones, and great food. The olfactory system has an impact on creating emotions and how you respond to them. It also affects your sense of taste, since taste and smell are connected by the olfactory system as scent travels through your nose before it reaches your throat.
Changes to the sense of smell can occur for a variety of reasons. The most common causes are a cold or flu, sinus infection, allergy (such as hay fever), and nasal polyps. The sense of smell also frequently occurs with age and hormonal changes such as menopause. Any change can result in anosmia (loss of smell), smelling things that aren’t there (phantom smells or phantosmia), reduced sense of smell (hyposmia), and changes in how things smell (parosmia).
How is sense of smell associated with menopause?
Both estrogen and progesterone have an impact on your sense of smell and your ability to recognize and feel smells. In a research study, experts examined olfactory function in women ages 20 to 50. They discovered a significant decrease in the sense of smell among postmenopausal women when compared with non-menopausal women of the same age. The authors noted that the “significant decrease of olfactory ability in postmenopause is explained by the decline in sex hormone levels.”
Another factor to consider in menopause is dry mouth, a common menopausal symptom. Menopause-related dry mouth can have an impact on the sense of smell since it also affects taste, and smell and taste are connected. It’s uncertain, however, how frequently this occurs because of a lack of research.
Another change in the sense of smell is hyperosmia, which is an exaggerated or overwhelming sensitivity to smells. Hormonal changes can trigger this response, as can migraines, which affect some women in menopause. Hyperosmia may also affect your sense of taste.
How to manage the sense of smell changes in menopause naturally
You may be able to lessen symptoms by trying the following:
- Stay well hydrated at all times. Dry mouth may contribute to changes in smell.
- Spicy, very hot, salty, or acidic foods may make you more dehydrated and leave your mouth irritated, which may have some impact on smell.
- Rinsing your nasal passages with a saline solution, using a neti pot, may help by removing allergens and cleansing your nasal passages.
- A technique called smell training has been shown to improve sense of smell in some people who have lost their sense of smell for unknown reasons or because of head trauma or an upper respiratory condition. In one study, for example, the authors presented the volunteers with different essential oils to smell over a period of 12 weeks to improve olfactory sensitivity. You can discuss this option with your healthcare professional.
In some cases, changes to a sense of smell is permanent.
When to see your doctor
If your sense of smell doesn’t improve after several weeks and you are concerned, you should consult your doctor. You may be checked for polyps or a sinus infection.
Changes in the sense of smell is not uncommon in perimenopause and menopause. Since sense of smell and taste are closely related, you may notice a difference in both.