Maybe You Only Think You Smell Bad

Maybe You Only Think You Smell Bad

What’s worse: Smelling bad or only imagining you smell bad? Psychiatrists are considering adding olfactory reference syndrome – a syndrome where the victim believes they emit an imagined foul odour – to The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

As a lifelong gamer and frequent science fiction convention attendee, I tend to run into all sorts of smelly people in my travels. I’ve met people proud as can be about the way they smell after three days of geeking out, and I’ve known folks who seem blissfully unaware of the stench they are emitting.

I can only imagine the horror of constantly believing you’re being trailed by a stink that doesn’t exist.

Olfactory reference syndrome is currently widely considered to be a sub-type of body dysmorphic disorder. Instead of being obsessed with their perception of their physical appearance, victims are instead constantly worried about their scent, to the point where they perceive odours others can’t.

Can you image? Always thinking you reeked, no matter how many people told you smelled fine? Never feeling clean, no matter how hard you scrub? Constantly layering yourself with perfumes, trying to mask something only you can perceive?

It sounds like a nightmare.

In fact, a study in the 1970’s found that olfactory reference syndrome had the highest suicide rates among any mental disorder.

The current study, performed by Brown University professor of psychiatry and human behaviour Dr Katharine Phillips, involved a group of 20 victims of the syndrome, 60 per cent females, with an average age of 33.

Among the 20, a third has attempted suicide, while half had been hospitalised for mental illness.

As far as mental disorders go, it isn’t one that people generally talk about. Despite thinking about their smell for an average of eight hours a day, cleaning themselves compulsively, changing clothes on a regular basis, and in one case, drinking perfume to try and make it stop. Victims often confine themselves to their homes, worried that the outside world will smell the stink, or afraid that every day actions, such as opening a door or rubbing one’s nose, are signs that people are noticing them.

While the disorder has been around for more than 40 years, doctors have made little progress in treating it, outside of some small successes with cognitive behavioural therapy.

I suppose the point here is that next time someone tells you that you reek, stink, or smell, you should probably take comfort in the fact that it’s not just you.

Rare disorder makes people think they smell bad []


  • This fat guy at my Uni doesn’t appear to have this condition, absoultely the worst smelling person ever, but yet it doesn’t seem to bother him.

Log in to comment on this story!