A good friend of mine lost her sense of smell every time she became pregnant. She has three children and usually during the first trimester until several months after giving birth, she no longer has the ability to smell anything. She says that every once in a while she would get a whiff of something, but then it would be gone. The weird thing is that most women experience hyperosmia during pregnancy, which is a heightened sense of smell, the opposite of anosmia.
There is almost nothing that links pregnancy and anosmia together, but women do report losing their sense of smell very occasionally during pregnancy instead of becoming almost nauseated by overwhelming smells. Usually, anosmia is caused by allergies, a genetic predisposition, nasal polyps, and certain drugs like antibiotics, antidepressants, and anti-inflammatory medications. It’s also caused by exposure to toxic chemicals and cocaine abuse. Most women who experience anosmia during pregnancy report that it begins early and generally goes away shortly after giving birth. The only symptoms associated with anosmia are loss of smell.
Though the reason why some women lose their sense of smell during pregnancy is a mystery, there are plenty of reasons why women experience hyperosmia during pregnancy. In one study published in the Oxford journal Chemical Senses, one hundred nonsmoking women who were pregnant, postpartum, or had never been pregnant before were tested using the University of Pennsylvania Smell Identification Test. In correlation with previous reports, 90% of pregnant women reported that specific odors smelled less pleasant and 60% of the pregnant women reported that some odors smelled more pleasant.
At the end of the study however, it was found that the scientific evidence for women being more sensitive to odors during pregnancy was limited and inconclusive. Most evidence for heightened smell has been anecdotal and it seems that just as many women also experience hyposmia, or a reduced sense of smell, just as often during pregnancy. Anosmia is still not as common as hyperosmia and hyposmia, but isn’t all that uncommon for women to experience at some point during their pregnancy, even if just for a few weeks.
It’s been about nine years since my friend’s last pregnancy and since then she has regained her sense of smell. However, during particularly bad colds, it isn’t uncommon for her smell to disappear for a few weeks. She thinks it’s allergies, but then again she may just be one person in the small pool of women to experience prolonged anosmia after pregnancy.
- Cameron, L. E. (2007). Measures of human olfactory perception during pregnancy. Chemical Senses, 32(8), 775-782.