Do you always smell flowers even when they’re not around? Does this scent linger in your nose regardless of where you are?
If you answered “yes” to both questions, you probably have phantosmia, an olfactory hallucination that causes people to smell something that isn’t there.
Phantosmia occurs when the nerves of the olfactory system are damaged. This may happen following a viral infection, brain tumor, surgery or exposure to toxins or drugs. The problem can also be triggered by epilepsy or it may be psychological in origin.
“Most often phantosmia is due to temporal lobe seizures, but it could also be caused by a brain injury. If you have a temporal lobe seizure, your phantosmia may be brief and you may lose consciousness or have other symptoms of epilepsy,” according to Dr. Jerry Swanson, a neurologist at the Mayo Clinic.
“The combination of phantosmia and olfactory delusions is often due to a psychiatric illness, such as depression or schizophrenia. Phantosmia and olfactory delusions may also occur in people with Alzheimer’s disease. Although rare, phantosmia can occur as a symptom prior to a migraine. There is also some evidence to suggest that phantosmia can arise due to a disorder of the smell receptor system rather than the central nervous system,” he added.
People with phantosmia may detect a variety of odors. The “lucky” ones smell fresh flowers. The most common odors, however, are rotting flesh, vomit, urine, feces and smoke.
Imagine the pain and misery these people go through with these unpleasant smells! How on earth can you enjoy dinner if these bad odors haunt you?
The bad news is very little is known about phantosmia and treatment may be difficult depending on the underlying problem.
If you smell strange odors from things that aren’t there, consult a doctor to rule out the possibility of a serious disorder. The sooner treatment is begun, the better.