What is the Olfactory System?

The olfactory system processes our sense of smell. Sensory receptors present in the nose receive input from our environment which then sends signals to our olfactory bulb located in our brain. Our olfactory system immediately discriminates between thousands of various smells which helps us to recognize if a specific odor is dangerous, enjoyable, strong, faint, or foul to produce a reaction. Our sense of smell is tied to our sense of taste (gustatory system) which helps to create flavors that we taste in food. Additionally, our olfactory system is closely related to our limbic system, which is responsible for emotion and memory.



How do I know if my child has deficits in Olfactory Processing?

If your child…

  • Gags easily or vomits with a specific odor
  • May pick up on and become distracted by smells that others would not notice
  • Smells non-food items (crayons, toys)
  • Does not notice unpleasant odors or drastic changes in smell
  • Refuses to try new foods based on smell only
  • Craves certain smells intensely
  • Is aversive to scented materials (cologne, perfume, flowers)



How can Occupational Therapy help with Olfactory Processing?

At Mount Pleasant Pediatric Therapy, our occupational therapists are skilled in evaluative and treatment techniques in the sensory integration approach. An occupational therapist will complete an extensive evaluation of all your child’s sensory systems and how they collectively impact your child’s participation in daily life at home and in the community.  Your occupational therapist will provide sensory integration treatment techniques as well as work with you to suggest specific sensory strategies or modifications to help your child organize and process olfactory input. The treatment plans and recommendations our therapists make are individualized to best meet the needs of your child within their natural environment.





What happens when there are problems with Olfactory Processing?

Typically, a child can tolerate a variety of odors, disagreeable and pleasurable, in their environment without extreme reactions. However, if a child has deficits in olfactory processing, they can be hypersensitive (adverse) or hyposensitive (craves) to smells which can result in unexpected reactions to odors. Decreased olfactory processing skills may lead to anxiety that is associated with certain odors, hardships during mealtime, or even frequent smelling of non-food objects that can impact a child’s participation in activities of daily living, play, and school-based tasks.