Education, Physical Health, Wellness / Self-Care

What is olfactory fatigue?

It’s more common than you think.

words by: Natasha Marsh
Feb 8, 2022

Unlike myself, my mom wears perfume daily. She must have over 100 choices in her bathroom, and another 50-60 in our guest bathroom. It’s her addiction. Whenever I am hanging out with her, she always has a different scent on, staying away from claiming a signature scent. If I like the scent, I’ll compliment her, to which her response is always the same: “What am I wearing again? I can’t even smell it.”


And she’s not the only one who cannot smell certain smells after years of wearing it. In fact, the phenomenon is called olfactory fatigue.


What is olfactory fatigue?

Put simply, it’s sensory adaptation, and the body’s natural desensitization to the same smells over time. Olfactory fatigue enables your body to adapt to prolonged exposure of smells as if it’s not even there.


Essentially, your body desensitizes to all stimulation over time to prevent the nervous system from overloading. Also, to allow response time to make stimulants flow easier. If this has ever occurred to you, and you’d like to prevent it, there are ways. Let’s talk about them.


How do I cure the fragrance fatigue?

As it happens, there are tons of ways to trick your brain into regaining sensitivity to the smells it has been exposed to.


If you are exposed to a smell for longer than an hour, it can actually take up to a day for your sensitivity to that odor to return. For example, if there is a leak in your house that causes a smell, you might have discomfort the first hour, but then become used to the scent as the hours pass. However, if a friend enters the same house, they will be brutally aware of the smell, since they are new to the environment, and haven’t been exposed yet.


Generally though, you can trick your brain by smelling into your shirt (the fabrics of your clothes will offset the sensitivity) or smelling something with acidity, like coffee or lemons.


But say your house has a leak once every week. Being exposed to the same smell repeatedly can take even longer for your sensitivity to return. For my mom to regain her sensitivity, it would be beneficial to alter between multiple fragrances that she likes, to not get stuck in one smell. If not, eventually she will no longer be able to recognize the smell, because of olfactory fatigue.


Here’s a pro tip: The body will warn you of a smell if your olfactory fatigue is working properly.


We’ve also broken down how to find the perfect scent for your skin type. And as scary as it is, Amazon’s new surveillance cameras definitely won’t be suffering from olfactory fatigue.


Photo via iStock