Phantosmia: When You Smell Smells That Aren't There

Phantosmia: When You Smell Smells That Aren't There file404/Shutterstock.com

Have you ever smelled odours other people can’t smell? If you have, you may have experienced phantosmia – the medical name for a smell hallucination.

Phantosmia odours are often foul; some people smell faeces or sewage, others describe smelling smoke or chemicals. These episodes can be sparked by a loud noise or change in the flow of air entering your nostrils. Spookily, some people seem to have a premonition that they are going to happen. The first time they occur, the phantom smell can linger for a few minutes, and the episodes may repeat daily, weekly or monthly for up to a year.

Since our sense of smell dominates the flavour of food in our mouth, any food consumed during a phantosmic episode will be tainted with the properties of the phantom odour. It is easy to see how these symptoms can severely affect a person’s quality of life. In extreme cases, it can even induce suicidal thoughts.

Related conditions

People with phantosmia often also report a closely related condition known as “parosmia”. This is where an actual smell is perceived as something quite different, such as the smell of a rose being perceived as cinnamon, although it is more often perceived as something unpleasant.

Both phantosmia and parosmia are known as “qualitative olfactory disorders” in that it is the perceived quality of the odour that has changed. In contrast, quantitative disorders are where the strength of the odour has changed and include conditions such as anosmia (loss of sense of smell) and hyperosmia (enhanced sense of smell to an abnormal level). Quantitative conditions can be measured using an objective standardised test.

It is rare for someone to experience phantosmias without some other existing quantitative condition, such as anosmia. And, interestingly, phantosmias are often found in the nostril with the least sense of smell.

Who gets it?

Usually, the first phantosmia experience happens between 15 and 30 years of age and appears to affect more females than males. It has been found in a number of different patient populations, including those with depression, migraine, epilepsy and schizophrenia.


 Get The Latest From InnerSelf


Rates for phantosmia vary widely from 0.8 to 25%, being much higher for those people with existing olfactory conditions.

Phantosmia: When You Smell Smells That Aren't There In extreme situations, people have an olfactory bulb removed by surgery. gritsalak karalak/Shutterstock.com

We don’t know what causes phantosmia, but it is thought to originate from either central brain areas, including those that control emotion or peripheral areas more related to smell function, such as those areas involved in detecting odours.

Some people find that administering saline drops to the nose can alleviate the phantosmia, as can drugs used to treat existing neurological conditions, such as antidepressants and anti-epileptic medication. In extreme situations, and only after extensive medical consultation, some patients have the offending olfactory bulb (we have one for each nostril – see illustration above) removed by surgery, but this is a very risky procedure and would lead to permanent loss of smell for that nostril. Fortunately, though, phantosmia usually resolves on its own without the need for treatment.

If you start to smell odours that others can’t, you might wish to consult your GP, if only to rule out serious underlying disorders that may be causing the phantom smell. But just remember that in the vast majority of cases, phantosmia is a harmless condition rather than a sign of a serious underlying condition.The Conversation

About the Author

Lorenzo Stafford, Senior Lecturer, University of Portsmouth

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Recommended Books: Health

Fresh Fruit CleanseFresh Fruit Cleanse: Detox, Lose Weight and Restore Your Health with Nature's Most Delicious Foods [Paperback] by Leanne Hall.
Lose weight and feel vibrantly healthy while clearing your body of toxins. Fresh Fruit Cleanse offers everything you need for an easy and powerful detox, including day-by-day programs, mouth-watering recipes, and advice for transitioning off the cleanse.
Click here for more info and/or to order this book on Amazon.

Thrive FoodsThrive Foods: 200 Plant-Based Recipes for Peak Health [Paperback] by Brendan Brazier.
Building upon the stress-reducing, health-boosting nutritional philosophy introduced in his acclaimed vegan nutrition guide Thrive, professional Ironman triathlete Brendan Brazier now turns his attention to your dinner plate (breakfast bowl and lunch tray too).
Click here for more info and/or to order this book on Amazon.

Death by Medicine by Gary NullDeath by Medicine by Gary Null, Martin Feldman, Debora Rasio and Carolyn Dean
The medical environment has become a labyrinth of interlocking corporate, hospital, and governmental boards of directors, infiltrated by the drug companies. The most toxic substances are often approved first, while milder and more natural alternatives are ignored for financial reasons. It's death by medicine.
Click here for more info and/or to order this book on Amazon.


enafarzh-CNzh-TWnltlfifrdehiiditjakomsnofaptruessvtrvi

follow InnerSelf on

facebook-icontwitter-iconrss-icon

 Get The Latest By Email

{emailcloak=off}

FROM THE EDITORS

Why Donald Trump Could Be History's Biggest Loser
by Robert Jennings, InnerSelf.com
Updated July 2, 20020 - This whole coronavirus pandemic is costing a fortune, maybe 2 or 3 or 4 fortunes, all of unknown size. Oh yeah, and, hundreds of thousands, maybe a million, of people will die…
Blue-Eyes vs Brown Eyes: How Racism is Taught
by Marie T. Russell, InnerSelf
In this 1992 Oprah Show episode, award-winning anti-racism activist and educator Jane Elliott taught the audience a tough lesson about racism by demonstrating just how easy it is to learn prejudice.
A Change Is Gonna Come...
by Marie T. Russell, InnerSelf
(May 30, 2020) As I watch the news on the events in Philadephia and other cities in the country, my heart aches for what is transpiring. I know that this is part of the greater change that is taking…
A Song Can Uplift the Heart and Soul
by Marie T. Russell, InnerSelf
I have several ways that I use to clear the darkness from my mind when I find it has crept in. One is gardening, or spending time in nature. The other is silence. Another way is reading. And one that…
Mascot for the Pandemic and Theme Song for Social Distancing and Isolation
by Marie T. Russell, InnerSelf
I came across a song recently and as I listened to the lyrics, I thought it would be a perfect song as a "theme song" for these times of social isolation. (Lyrics below the video.)