Sensitivity to Sound or Smell

Home » Burnout Symptoms » Sensitivity to Sound or Smell

CFS is known for primary symptoms like extreme fatigue and weakness. However, one less known but critical symptom is heightened sensitivity to sensory stimuli, such as sound or smell. This symptom is often referred to as ‘sensory overload’. Not all individuals with CFS will experience this symptom, but for those who do, it can significantly interfere on their day-to-day life.

Sound Sensitivity in CFS

Also called hyperacusis, sound sensitivity in CFS can make even average everyday sounds feel unbearable, leading to discomfort and pain. For some individuals, this sensitivity might be triggered by a single sound or a specific range of frequencies, while for others, a general increase in the ambient noise level may trigger discomfort.

Smell Sensitivity in CFS

This heightened sensitivity to smell, known as hyperosmia, can also be a symptom of CFS. Everyday odors that most people usually ignore may become overpowering and uncomfortable. These odors can include food smells, perfume, smoke, or other environmental odors. The intensity of this sensitivity can change from day to day in the same person.

Possible Causes of Sensory Sensitivity

Though the exact cause of this sensory overload is still unclear, some researchers propose that it may be due to changes in the brain’s sensitivity thresholds due to CFS. Another theory suggests that this symptom may be related to the dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system, commonly noted in people with CFS. Further research is needed to pinpoint the exact cause.


Management strategies can vary from person to person. These can include reducing exposure to triggering stimuli, using earplugs or noise-canceling headphones, or changing dietary habits to avoid strong smells. Additionally, some people with CFS find relief through various therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy, relaxation techniques and graded exposure to sound or smell.

As with all symptoms of CFS, it is crucial that individuals experiencing these sensitivities consult with healthcare professionals to determine the best course of management for their unique situation.