Olfactory Reference Syndrome (Fear of Smelling Bad) & Its Treatment

Last Update on August 4, 2023 : Published on March 7, 2023

Do you have friends who constantly use deodorants or frequently enquire about their body odor? If yes there is a chance of them struggling with olfactory reference syndrome. It is one of the most under-recognized psychiatric conditions.

Olfactory reference syndrome is also confused with a lot of other psychiatric conditions like obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), body dysmorphic disorder (BDD),  bromidrophobia, and a Japanese condition called Jiko-shu-kyofu.

However, many people have intrusive thoughts about having a bad body odor but that doesn’t necessarily mean you have Olfactory reference syndrome. When you develop irrational and obsessive thoughts about body odor and they start interfering with your daily life is a call for psychiatric attention.

Let’s explore all characteristics of Olfactory reference syndrome and how to treat olfactory reference syndrome…

What Is Olfactory Reference Syndrome?


Olfactory reference syndrome is also known as olfactory reference disorder. It can be characterized by an irrational obsession with being a foul-smelling person. They are constantly worried about various body odors coming from their armpits, sweat glands, or anal or vaginal odor.

Olfactory reference syndrome is a condition that feels very similar to having a phobia. An individual with olfactory reference syndrome is so scared of smelling bad that they can go to any lengths not to smell bad.

The preoccupation and obsession over their body odor are so irrational yet intense that they get anxious around people. They might quit going to games or refuse to dance even when their crush calls them.

Olfactory reference syndrome can stop you from achieving your goals. It can also reflect badly on your relationships. After all, you always escape because you fear you’ll smell bad. It can also lead to the development of severe mental health conditions like depression, social anxiety, loneliness, etc.

Also read: OCD And Social Anxiety: Is There A Relationship Between The Two?

Symptoms Of Olfactory Reference Syndrome


The signs and symptoms of olfactory reference syndrome are very obvious and easily identifiable. However, sometimes it can be confused with just being conscious about your body odor. Olfactory reference syndrome will affect your routine life and interfere with your decision-making.

If your consciousness about smelling good always is not coming in the way of your goals, there is probably nothing to worry about. Let’s have a look at some of the symptoms of olfactory reference syndrome that we need to watch out for;

  • Frequent showering, using perfumes/deodorants
  • Repeated use of grooming products
  • Constantly checking their body odor
  • Always enquire about their smell
  • Social avoidance because of fear of smelling bad
  • Escaping from work/school is an anxious response to a fear of having a foul odor
  • Suicidal ideations caused by extreme anxiety
  • Low self-esteem
  • Anxiety and depressive symptoms

What Treatments Work for Olfactory Reference Syndrome (ORS)?

Experts are still studying olfactory reference syndrome and its consequences. The treatment strategies for ORS are still a little hazy, there is enough proof that treatments for similar mental health conditions can work for olfactory reference syndrome as well.

The symptoms of olfactory reference syndrome are similar to that of obsessive-compulsive disorder; therefore, the treatment focuses on reframing the obsessive thoughts. Let’s have a look at all the treatment options that can work for olfactory reference syndrome;

1. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): focuses on your thoughts and how you frame them. CBT helps you identify your obsessive thoughts, what triggers them, and how you can replace them with adaptive thoughts.

2. Clinical drugs: olfactory reference syndrome can give rise to extreme anxiety and emotional fluctuation. Such symptoms can be managed with help of some psychiatric drugs like serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SRIs) and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

Get Help Now

The best treatment option for olfactory reference syndrome is considered a combination of medicines and psychotherapy. This is because the symptoms of ORS  include suicidal ideations, anxiety, and depressive thoughts.

Psychiatric drugs help in managing and reducing the intensity of olfactory reference syndrome symptoms. And the psychotherapy sessions will help in reframing your obsessive thoughts and help you fight your triggers.

That’s All Folks!

I hope you found this blog about olfactory reference syndrome and its treatment helpful, interesting, and informative. Do share this blog with your friends and family. Olfactory reference syndrome may be rare but it is a serious condition that needs medical attention.

Thanks for reading.

Take care and stay safe.

About The Author

Kirti Bhati
Kirti Bhati

I am an English literature (major) and psychology (minor) graduate from St. Bede’s College, Shimla. Postgraduate in Clinical psychology from IIS University, Jaipur. She has published a Research paper on Music therapy in the military population and Workplace stress in a national seminar conducted by Fortis hospital (gurugram) and international seminar conducted by St. Bede’s College, Shimla, Respectively. Authored a dissertation work on ‘effect of social media addiction on the mental and physical well-being in adolescents’ Currently working at calm sage as a writer.

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