Olfactory Reference Syndrome
The OCD and Related Disorders Program recently completed a research study examining Olfactory Reference Syndrome, an understudied but severe disorder.
What is ORS?
Considered by some to be subtype of Body Dysmorphic Disorder, Olfactory Reference Syndrome (ORS) is characterized by excessive worry that one is emitting a foul or offensive body odor, although this odor is not perceived by others. For example, individuals who suffer from ORS may be preoccupied with “bad breath” or a fear that they smell like sweat, garbage, or rotting fish, but others tell them that they smell fine. Patients often experience significant distress and anxiety related to ORS, and may feel a sense of responsibility for the perceived odor. In an effort to hide or fix the odor, individuals often engage in time-consuming behaviors, such as repetitive showering, frequent changing of clothing, or excessive use of sprays/perfumes to mask the odor. Persons with ORS often avoid public and social situations due to anxiety about the odor.
Though limited, research to date suggests that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) may be helpful for individuals suffering with ORS.
What is CBT for ORS?
CBT for ORS typically consists of cognitive restructuring followed by Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP), which may incorporate techniques similar to those used in the treatment of OCD. This practice is designed to gradually reduce the obsessive thoughts and behaviors associated with one’s odor.
The comprehensive treatment also attends to accompanying feelings including embarrassment, shame, and distress, which are often associated with these perceived odors.
Because little is known about this disorder, we are committed to developing a better understanding of the factors leading to, symptoms of, and treatment for Olfactory Reference Syndrome. We hope to address diagnostic questions and treatment needs, and eventually improve the quality of care for people who suffer from perceived body odor concerns.