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Increased sensitivity

Hi, my wife has primary MS and has become more sensitive to noise and smells. has anyone else experienced this, and if so can you offer any management please?
At present it’s a dog barking next door, we sometimes have to go out when this happens, as she can hear it in the house, but it could be road noise upsetting her when she accesses the garden. Or smells, it could be washing powder (we have tried several.)or someones perfume.
Thank you Dick.

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I’ve not noticed any extra sensitivity to smells, and can find noises jarring. For me, it’s when there’s lots of noises happening like in a busy cafe. I can tolerate it for so long, but then my energy will slump pretty quickly. To be honest, I haven’t got any useful strategies. However, she may find mindfulness meditation helps


It is not uncommon in MS.

Something which recently caught my attention is what the front cortex of the brain does. I’d thought that brain connections were there to get messages through to do things, switch things on! Not so with the front cortex. The world is a cacophony of stimuli of all different types, and one of the jobs of the front cortex when working properly is to screen out the unimportant ‘noise’ of these stimuli to allow the conscious part of our brain to focus on the things that are important. It has an inhibitory or filtering role. When there is damage to that part, then it doesn’t work so well at filtering out the unessential stimuli - hence noise, lights etc become more intrusive.

So what can help, apart from avoiding noisy, busy, places that overload the senses? Maybe some CBT, practising mindfulness and meditation? Some evidence that they can help.

And, apparently aerobic / anaerobic exercise helps improve connections between the left and right cortex (and so help with the filtering of stimuli). With fatigue and mobility issues exercise may not be so easy for those with MS, but maybe the high intensity interval training (HIIT) is the way to go. 15-20 seconds burst of exercise with 15 seconds relaxation between, done for two or three minutes, rather than half-an-hour’s running or fast walking / cycling etc., about 2-3 times a week.

There are a few recent studies that have shown it is beneficial for those with MS, for those who can do it. I don’t know whether your wife has enough mobility for this though, but thought I’d throw it in, just in case.

For anyone interested in HIIT, this video gives a good explanation why HIIT is good for the brain (and body). Also he gives a long section for those who are very unfit - so for almost all abilities. It is something I’ve just started, as I have fatigue and legs like lead, so feels like the most effective way of getting the most effective exercise, without ramping up the fatigue excessively.

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Hi there, i was diagnosed with RRMS in September 2020 and over time i realized that loud noises bothers me …but it not that bad …it manageable atm…so …i can just turn the volume lower or …not go in crowded …loud places …just try to avoid.
With smell …that was more difficult …as i experience heightened smell …it was that bad that i actually got sick if a smell didn’t agree with me. Either if it was perfume…or …cigarette …or food…
So i asked my ms nurse and she told me to pinpoint …and try to eliminate the cause…that was ok at home but outside things were more difficult.
I found helpful lavander essential oil. I bought an aromatherapy bracelet and use a drop of lavander essential oil and every time i am smelling something that i doesn’t agree with me …i just take a sniff and it gets better.
It works for me :sweat_smile:…worth a try :sweat_smile::blush:.

2 weeks ago i tested positive for covid (mild simptomes) and I’ve lost my smell for a week …and it was like a small break from my heightened smell …now it coming back …hopefully not that bad as before :crossed_fingers:.

Ah, another silver lining to Covid! By my counting there are now 2 silver linings I’m aware of:

  1. loss of sense of smell for those with hyperactive sende of smell
  2. mobile companies allowing people to tether their laptops etc to a mobile phone and increased data allowances too (well, they couldn’t let school kids be prevented from joining in with online lessons, now could they).

Not sure there are many more though!

Hello Dick and so sorry to hear about your wife’s symptoms. I have had RRMS for 2 years now and earlier this year experienced a period where sudden or unexpected noises (even quite ones) would make me jump out of my skin, which I found very unsettling. You might want to check out posts on this forum using the search term “startle reflex”. Mine gradually improved over time (about 6 months) but is still present albeit to a much lesser degree. Whilst this symptom was at its strongest I tried my best to avoid any situations which might have noise. I also found ear buds a good way of dampening down noice levels. Hope this shared experience helps.

Thank you all. The neurological explanation is helpful, I’ll suggest the lavender oil and CBT. The HIT may be too late. Not sure about the mindfulness, this hearing in the present seems to be part of the problem, she can’t escape her surroundings. I’m also wondering about noise canceling headphones to separate on occasions.

Hi Dick,
Yes, I have very sensitive sense of smell. Those reed diffusers are the worst I get back of the throat taste for hours after I’ve been in a room with one in.

Eyes very sensitive to light. I wear sunglasses in the car nearly all year round. My contact lenses have UV protection too.

Noise - again, I have the radio on the first volume level and sometimes that’s too loud.

What about ear plugs in places with loud music?


the ear plugs and buds irritate after a while unfortunately. loose fitting on the ear noise canceling headphones might though.
thanks Dick

Hi Dick,
I have a very sensitive sense of smell and I can’t tolerate many smells - reed diffusers drive me crackers too and also things like deep heat. I also can’t stand loud or certain noises/music. I just have to turn things down straight away if they bother me, it feels like I can’t stand it or think straight! I have never thought this is MS related, just how I am, but this has made me think that it maybe is MS related.

Yip - not so much smell but I find loud noises hard to cope with and as said, jump out of my skin - find that it can be quite unsettling to be honest - In a light hearted way, I’m always badgering my good lady wife to turn the TV down…

Try to calm down with help of lavender essential oil

Agree. Lavender oil is excellent. It is brilliant for the stress relief and many other things. There are few more good essential oils i use i my daily life : Peppermint essential oil helps with the pain relief and lemon for the times you feel down and don’t have energy.

My wife, a SPMS sufferer has a lot of trouble with noise and bright lights. She is a light sleeper and has very acute hearing so if next door have their washing machine on late at night she can hear it through the walls. (I’m not deaf but can’t hear some of the sounds which obviously keep her awake!) We used to go to concerts where the light shows were amazing and didn’t bother her. But she has had MS for 26 years and now the thought of bright lights and noise is enough to deter her. And don’t get me started on fireworks! So our house is like a library or Monastery most of the time and if i want to watch the footy i have to put my headphones on. Trouble is I can’t hear her if she wants help with something. Oh and we have a dog that thinks it’s his duty to let us know loudly whenever anybody walks past the house! Paracetamol sales are rocketing in our area, LOL.