Can’t You Smell That Smell?: Anosmia & Olfactory Fatigue

You know how that one lady at church wears so much perfume you can’t even sit by her? Well, she’s probably not making a statement. She probably can barely smell it anymore.

The same thing can happen to you.

You put three apple-scented air fresheners in your car because they just don’t seem as strong as they used to. But, then you take your friend for a drive and she opens the window because the smell is so powerful. This leaves you utterly confused. Are you and church lady anosmic or are you suffering from olfactory fatigue? Let’s investigate.


Anosmia is a word commonly used in the medical field to describe an inability to detect certain odors. It can be linked to injuries, diseases, or genetic defects. In the fragrance industry, it’s used to describe the loss of the ability to detect certain scents because of long-term overexposure. Anosmia is a more permanent condition and can happen to anyone over time.

Olfactory Fatigue

Olfactory fatigue is a temporary reduction in your ability to perceive certain scents or odors, or a change in the way odors are perceived. If you remove the odor for a short amount of time and cleanse your palate, your ability to smell that specific scent will return.

For example: your neighbor invites you over for dinner. She has two dogs and you immediately smell their dander when you walk in. You don’t think you’ll even be able to eat with such a rank smell. After awhile, though, it doesn’t smell anymore and you’re able to eat. You step outside after dinner to get some fresh air, and when you return the stench hits you like a brick wall. You just experienced olfactory fatigue.

In both scenarios, unless anosmia is a long-term medical condition, our olfactory system actually filters out certain scents as a defense mechanism. This is because we need to be able to detect malodors, like smoke from a fire or rotten food. Pretty cool!

So which was church lady experiencing? It is likely she is suffering from anosmia. After wearing the same perfume for years upon years, her ability to smell it has been inhibited. The same goes for you. Change up your car air freshener for awhile and your ability to smell that delicious apple scent will return. Before you know it, you should able to enjoy your favorite fragrances (in moderation) once again.

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