What Is Olfactory Reference Syndrome? Everything You Need to Know

What Is Olfactory Reference Syndrome? Everything You Need to Know

Do you often smell things that aren’t there? If so, you may be suffering from olfactory reference syndrome. Also known as phantom odor syndrome, this rare condition can cause a person to smell things that aren’t actually present. In this blog post, we will discuss everything you need to know about olfactory reference syndrome. We will cover the symptoms, causes, and treatment options for this condition.

What Is Olfactory Reference Syndrome?

What Is Olfactory Reference Syndrome?Olfactory reference syndrome (ORS) is a condition where someone believes that they smell bad. Even though there is no objective evidence of this. People with ORS are preoccupied with the idea that they are emitting an unpleasant odor. They often go to great lengths to avoid situations where they think other people will be able to smell them.

This condition is also known as olfactory reference disorder, self-referenced smell, or autonomous olfactory hallucination. It is a rare condition that is not well-understood. ORS usually begins in adolescence or young adulthood. According to research, it occurs more often in women than men.

For example, someone with ORS may believe that their sweat smells bad. They may avoid situations where they would have to take their shirt off. Or, they may shower multiple times a day and use strong-smelling products to try to cover up the odor.

Although people with Olfactory reference syndrome feel a bad odor, other people cannot detect the bad odor. In fact, people with ORS often have a heightened sense of smell. They may be more sensitive to smells than other people.

What Are The Signs And Symptoms Of ORS?

There are numerous signs and symptoms of olfactory reference syndrome, and they vary from person to person. The most common symptom is a preoccupation with the belief that one emits an unpleasant or offensive body odor, even when others cannot smell it. There is a wide range of variations in the presentation of olfactory reference syndrome. Some of these are;

Preoccupation with perceived bad body odor

Individuals who have olfactory reference syndrome are usually fixated on the belief that they have a bad body odor. This may be due to a real or imaginary smell. They often belives that others can smell this odor as well, and this causes anxiety and distress. For example, they may avoid social situations for fear of being judged or ridiculed.

Avoidance behaviors

Patients go to great lengths to avoid situations in which they fear they will be embarrassed by their body odor. This may include avoiding work, school, or social gatherings. Moreover, they may limit their interactions with others, and this can lead to social isolation. Also, avoidance behaviors in olfactory reference syndrome are often similar to those seen in patients with social anxiety disorder.

Excessive repetitive behaviors

It is not uncommon for patients with olfactory reference syndrome to engage in repetitive behaviors, such as excessive hand-washing, showering, and changing of clothes. This is done in an attempt to rid themselves of the imaginary odor. Unfortunately, these behaviors often have the opposite effect and can make the person smell worse.

Compulsive washing and grooming

Compulsive washing and groomingThis is a common symptom of olfactory reference syndrome, and it refers to the compulsive need to wash and groom oneself. This may include excessive showering, hand-washing, and changing of clothes. People with this condition often believe that if they do not clean themselves obsessively, they will emit a bad odor.

Anxiety and depression

Many people with olfactory reference syndrome also suffer from anxiety and depression. This is due to the isolation that often accompanies the condition. Moreover, the anxiety can be so severe that it leads to panic attacks. In addition, patients may have difficulty concentrating or sleeping due to their preoccupation with body odor.

Use of strong perfumes or deodorants

This is a very common symptom or sign as patients try to mask their imaginary body odor with strong perfumes or deodorants. In some cases, they may even use industrial-strength cleaners in an attempt to rid themselves of the smell.

These signs are actually similar to those of other mental health conditions, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and social anxiety disorder. In fact, these are included in DSM-5 as possible specifiers for ORS. This means that a diagnosis of ORS requires that the individual’s symptoms cannot be better explained by another mental disorder.

DSM-5 has listed Olfactory reference syndrome as an example of “other specified Obsessive-compulsive disorders”. However, in the recently published ICD’s 11th edition Olfactory reference syndrome is classified as a separate disorder. It is placed in the chapter on OCD and related disorders. Moreover, DSM-5 provides clear and descriptive criteria for this disorder.

What Causes Olfactory Reference Syndrome?

What Causes Olfactory Reference Syndrome?There are many possible causes of olfactory reference syndrome. One theory is that it’s a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). OCD is a mental health condition that causes people to have rigid routines and compulsions, or repetitive behaviors, that they feel they must do to avoid anxiety or distress. It’s possible that the compulsion in olfactory reference syndrome is the constant need to smell oneself or objects around them.

Another theory is that olfactory reference syndrome is caused by a social anxiety disorder. Social anxiety disorder is a type of anxiety disorder that causes extreme fear and self-consciousness in social situations. People with a social anxiety disorder may worry about being judged by others, embarrassing themselves, or saying something embarrassing.

Moreover, like the causes of other psychiatric disorders, it has also been suggested that olfactory reference syndrome may be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

In fact, ORS is similar to BDD, OCD, and other social anxiety disorders. So, there are high chances that people suffering from ORS might have a family member with any of these disorders. For example, if someone’s parent has OCD, they may be more likely to develop olfactory reference syndrome.

Therefore, it is important to get help, otherwise, it will only get worse. Olfactory reference syndrome is a real condition that can be debilitating for those who suffer from it. If you think you might have ORS, talk to your doctor or mental health professional. They can help you get the treatment you need to improve your quality of life.

How To Treat Olfactory Reference Syndrome?

It is important to treat the underlying mental health condition that is causing ORS. If the person is experiencing anxiety, they may be prescribed medication or therapy. If the person has OCD, they may be prescribed medication, therapy, or a combination of both. It is important to work with a mental health professional to create a treatment plan that is right for you.

As ORS can be difficult to live with, there are ways to manage it. Some of the ways to treat are as follows;


It is the best-known and most traditional type of ORS treatment. It can help you understand your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Psychotherapy can also teach you how to manage your symptoms. It basically refers to “talk therapy.” It includes various types of therapies, such as

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), helps you change the way you think about your symptoms and your triggers. It can also help you learn how to cope with your symptoms.
  • Exposure and response prevention (ERP) helps you face your fears and learn how to manage your reactions to them.

These two types of therapies are most commonly used to treat ORS. And, is believed to be the most effective. Moreover, you can try Mantra Care for the best type of help and support.

Mantra Care is the best way to get help for ORS as it provides you with a community of people who understand what you’re going through. You can also get tips and advice from others who have lived with ORS. For a start, you can try a free consultation booking, it will give you an in-depth understanding of the condition. And help you to find the best treatment according to your condition.


Medication is also an option for treating ORS. If you have anxiety, your doctor may prescribe medication to help relieve your symptoms. If you have OCD, your doctor may prescribe medication to help reduce your obsessions and compulsions.

There are two types of medications that are commonly used to treat ORS;

  • Antidepressants, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), can help reduce anxiety and depression. They can also help reduce the severity of obsessions and compulsions.
  • Anti-anxiety medications, such as benzodiazepines, can help relieve symptoms of anxiety. However, they can be addictive and should only be used short term.

If you’re considering medication for ORS, it’s important to talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits. Medication can be an effective treatment for ORS, but it’s not right for everyone.

Lifestyle Changes

Lifestyle ChangesMaking lifestyle changes can also help manage ORS. Some of the lifestyle changes that may help include;

  • Stress management: Stress can trigger ORS symptoms. Learning how to manage stress can help reduce the frequency and severity of your symptoms.
  • Sleep: Getting enough sleep can help reduce stress and improve your overall health.
  • Exercise: Exercise can help reduce stress and improve your mood.
  • Diet: Eating a healthy diet can help improve your overall health.

These tips for lifestyle changes are just a starting point. If you’re not sure where to start, talk to your doctor or mental health professional. They can help you create a plan that is right for you. In fact, these changes have no side effects but even have some benefits for you in the long term.

Support Groups

There are many support groups available for people with ORS. These groups provide a safe and supportive environment for people to share their experiences and learn from others. Support groups can be a great way to meet other people with ORS and get tips and advice on how to manage the condition.

Mantra Care also provides an online support group for people with ORS. This is a great way to connect with others who understand what you’re going through. You can also get tips and advice from others who have lived with ORS.

ORS can be a difficult condition to live with, but there are many resources available to help. If you or someone you know is struggling with ORS, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Talk to your doctor or mental health professional about treatment options. And, consider joining a support group. With the right help and support, you can manage your symptoms and live a full and happy life.


To conclude, olfactory reference syndrome is a rare condition that can cause great distress. It is more often related to mental health conditions, such as anxiety or OCD. Also, it is important to get help from a mental health professional if you think you may have olfactory reference syndrome.

If you or someone you know is struggling with olfactory reference syndrome, there are many resources available to help. But firstly, you need to start with seeking professional help. Thanks for reading!

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