Fibromyalgia can be a pain in pretty much every body part, but did you know it can affect your nose? It may come as a surprise, but fibromyalgia can cause sensitivity to odors.
For someone with the condition, perfumes, lotions and scented home cleaning products that other people enjoy might smell very strong or even cause a headache.
What causes this symptom? In order to understand how fibromyalgia and odors are connected, we need to look at the disease as a whole.
Fibromyalgia: Common Symptoms
Fibromyalgia is well-known for causing extreme pain in the muscles and joints throughout the body. It can also cause very nonspecific pain in various areas (such as the abdomen, back and chest).
People who have fibromyalgia often have chronic fatigue syndrome, and the fatigue can exacerbate their pain (and vice versa).
Migraine headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, insomnia and anxiety and depression are all common with fibromyalgia. More women have the disease than men (although men can get it, as well). There is no cure for it, but there are ways to control the symptoms.
Doctors know all of the above, but what they don’t yet know is exactly why some people get fibromyalgia. They do have a theory about changes in the brain that can cause many of its symptoms.
These brain abnormalities are known as central sensitization. People with central sensitization have a central nervous system that doesn’t process information properly and becomes overwhelmed. This leads to oversensitivity throughout the body.
Central sensitization can cause sensitivity to a variety of factors, from lights and sounds to scents and touch.
Large gatherings with lots of noise can be tough for people with fibromyalgia-related central sensitization to deal with, especially if there is a lot of noise, bright lights, and activity.
Odors can also be a problem—and to someone with central sensitization, even mild odors can seem too strong and overly intense. Lights, noise, and scents can all cause extreme headaches, elevated anxiety levels, and they can exacerbate pain.
How to Deal With Sensitivity to Odors
Sensitivity to odors can be a frustrating symptom for those who have experienced it. Coping with this problem means dealing with your body’s overall over-sensitization, which—as we mentioned before—is rooted in your nervous system.
Calming your nervous system will help greatly in reducing all of the various sensitivities you may be experiencing, whether your problem is bright lights, loud sounds, or scents.
Figure Out Your Triggers
With central sensitization, just as with fibromyalgia as a whole, people and their individual symptoms differ.
One person may be able to attend a loud concert with no problem, but can’t withstand any scented cleaning products or candles being used in their home because the odor is too strong.
For another person, scented lotions and oils might be ok, but the smell of bleach or chlorine can cause a headache.
Figure out what triggers problems for you so that you can (as much as possible) eliminate those things from your environment.
Calm Your Nervous System
The problem with central sensitization is that your nervous system has trouble sorting and processing information in the way it’s supposed to.
When it gets overwhelmed with information (bright lights! so much sound! really loud sound! what’s that smell?), it sends out signals that overwhelm your senses—making everything seem too bright, too loud, too strong-smelling, and so on.
An overwhelmed and over-sensitized central nervous system can also cause pain levels to intensify. All of these things cause stress and anxiety, which stimulate the nervous system…and the cycle continues.
Avoiding triggers is a huge help to keeping your symptoms under control, but triggers can’t be avoided all the time.
It’s a good idea to create a space where you can go to recharge and help your nervous system calm down and heal.
At home, your bedroom can be this sort of sanctuary. Keep lights and noise there to a minimum. Keep strong smells out entirely.
Allow yourself time to rest in this space, knowing that calming your mind is important to calm your body.
The same is true if you attend events with large groups of people (such as family gatherings). See if there is a place you can retreat to if the lights, noise, or scents become overwhelming.
Working to keep your central nervous system from becoming overstimulated will not only help with your reactions to sensory triggers, it will also help lower your overall pain levels.
Many people notice that during episodes when they have been triggered by, for instance, strong smells, they often experience headaches and more extreme pain throughout their body.
Stress and Anxiety Can Be a Factor
Another way to help soothe your central nervous system (and keep your symptoms under control) is to pay attention to your stress and anxiety levels.
Anyone who has ever gone through extreme periods of stress or anxiety will know that both of these can cause you to feel sensory overload, as well as exacerbate pain.
Many people find anti-anxiety medications or antidepressants helpful in keeping their anxiety at bay. In addition to this, regular exercise is proven to help reduce stress and anxiety levels.
Exercise can help with overall health, but it also helps lessen pain through strengthening muscles, increasing flexibility and range of motion, as well as releasing endorphins that reduce pain and anxiety.
With any new exercise program, start out carefully and gently, working up to an intensity that is beneficial but does not exacerbate pain.
Meditation has also been proven to reduce anxiety, as well as pain levels. Like exercise, each individual has to work to find a meditation program that works for them.
Everyone is different; it may take time to identify your triggers, as well as figure out the best way to calm down your mind and body. Patience and self-compassion are key in this journey.