All About Phantosmia

If you smell odors that don't actually exist, there's a good chance you have a condition known as phantosmia. Believe it or not, more than 6% of Americans over age 40 have phantosmia. With phantosmia, you may "smell" these odors constantly or every once in a while in one nostril or both. Some of the most common odors you might notice include cigarette smoke, chemicals, mold, spoiled milk, and burning rubber. In most cases, these odors are not pleasant.

Causes of Phantosmia

There are a number of reasons you may experience phantosmia. Oftentimes, however, this condition is the result of a sinus issue. It may stem from a sinus infection, nasal polyps, common cold, or allergies. Phantom odor perception or phantosmia may also be caused by migraines, upper respiratory infections, and dental complications.

Diagnosing Phantosmia

You can expect your doctor to perform a physical exam of your nose and ears. They'll likely ask you about the types of odors you smell, how frequently you smell them, and whether they are present in one or both nostrils.

If your doctor believes your condition is related to your nose, they may conduct an endoscopy. During an endoscopy, they'll insert a tiny camera into your nasal cavity to get a close look at what's going on. Other exams like MRI scans and CT scans may also be necessary.

Treating Phantosmia

Fortunately, phantosmia that has to do with a sinus infection, respiratory infection, or cold will likely fade away on its own once the condition improves. To treat these conditions, your doctor may suggest a warm compress, decongestant, saline nasal wash, and/or antibiotics.

Despite the cause of your phantosmia, there are a few ways you can relieve your discomfort. You may want to rinse your nasal passages with a saline solution like a neti pot, use an oxymetazoline spray to improve congestion in your nose, and opt for an anesthetic spray to numb the nerves located high up in your nose.

Visit a Doctor for Phantosmia

While phantosmia isn't usually a cause for concern and will subside on its own, it's still a good idea to visit a doctor for diagnosis and treatment. They can pinpoint the underlying health condition that may be causing it and design an individualized treatment plan to help you find relief.


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