Phantosmia is a medical condition sometimes known as olfactory hallucinations. Individuals with this condition believe they can smell certain odors such as smoke, natural gas, dirt, and flowers even when the smell does not exist. These olfactory hallucinations can be indicative of medical illnesses such as seizures, tumors in the brain, and even Parkinson’s disease. There are treatments for this non-life threatening condition, but usually, the smells disappear over time.
Smelling Something That Is Not There
Phantosmia may involve one side of the nose or both sides. An uncommon disorder, phantosmia makes up 10 to 20 percent of all diseases affecting the sense of smell. The health issue often clears up on its own however it can indicate a more serious underlying condition. Occasionally the aromas are pleasant but the majority of the time the scents are unpleasant and foul smelling. A few of the most commonly reported smells include:
Chemical and metallic smells
Spoiled or rotting odors
Stale or moldy smells
A newstudy suggests that 1 in 15 Americans over the age of 40 experiences phantom odors. The research involving 7,417 participants took place between 2011 and 2014. According to the research, the ability to identify odors in the environment decreases with age. The study went on to find that twice as many women than men report phantom odors and this predominance was particularly prevalent in women under 60.
The Causes Of Phantosmia
There are many reasons that a person experiences phantom smells. These sensations may be related to the nose, which is known as peripheral phantosmia, or to the brain when the condition is called central phantosmia. The most common causes of these smell-related disorders include:
Chronic sinus infections
If the phantom smells originate from the brain the reasons may include:
A diagnosis of phantosmia can be challenging to obtain due to the variety of causes. Your healthcare provider will have the challenge of identifying if the problem is indeed smell or taste. You will need to describe the odor experience in detail.
The treatment for phantosmia depends upon the underlying cause of the phantom smells. People with chronic sinusitis or nasal inflammation can speak with a healthcare professional for treatment options such as a saline rinse. There are also pharmaceutical products that can help people with long-lasting phantosmias such as anesthetics, steroid creams, and medications that narrow the blood vessels to the nose. Surgery for phantosmia is also an option.
Phantosmia is typically not a cause for concern as it often will clear up in time. The more significant concern is that phantosmia is often an indicator of a more serious health issue or underlying condition. The best treatment for phantosmia depends on the cause of the problem. See your healthcare professional to discuss the problem if the symptoms appear to be chronic.