Phantosmia (Phantom Smell)

Dr. Smitha S. Dutt
Medically Reviewed by The Medindia Medical Review Team on Oct 15, 2018
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What is Phantosmia?

Phantosmia is experiencing non-existent or imaginary odors, in other words, a person begins to hallucinate about smells that are not present. The smells may be felt in either one or both nostrils; as they are invariably malodorous or foul-smelling; and may be present the entire time or felt occasionally. Most often, the individuals experience a smoky smell. Phantosmia is not a worrying condition because the problem may resolve itself within weeks or months and rarely, it might take years to resolve.

There is a prevalence of 0.8-25 percent of phantosmia in the general population, accounting for 10-20 percent of olfactory disorders (related to smell). Changes in the olfactory neural networks make phantosmia sensorineural in nature. In most cases, women appear to be more affected by these smell hallucinations.

There are 2 types of phantosmia. They are:

  • Central - involves the regions within the brain that process smell signals.
  • Peripheral - involves the olfactory neurons (nerve cells) that transmit the smell signal to the brain.

References:

  1. Swanson JW. Phantosmia: What causes olfactory hallucinations? Updated Apr 19, 2018; Accessed September 21, 2018; Cited September 24, 2018. - (https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases- conditions/temporal-lobe-seizure/expert-answers/phantosmia/faq-20058131)
  2. Smelling things that aren’t there (phantosmia). Updated Aug 31, 2017; Accessed September 21, 2018; Cited September 24, 2018. - (https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/phantosmia/)
  3. PubMed Health Glossary. Phantosmia. Accessed September 21, 2018; Cited September 24, 2018. - (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMHT0028147/)
  4. Smell disorders. Updated May 12, 2017; Updated Aug 31, 2017; Accessed September 21, 2018; Cited September 24, 2018. - (https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/smell-disorders)
  5. Kong X et al. Dysphasia and Phantosmia as First Presentation of Multifocal Cerebral Anaplastic Astrocytomas: Case Report and Review of the Literatures. Schaller. B, ed. Medicine. 2015;94(20):e877. - (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4602886/)
  6. Sara Sjölund et al: Phantom Smells: Prevalence and Correlates in a Population-Based Sample of Older Adults, Chemical Senses, Volume 42, Issue 4, 1 May 2017, Pages 309–318. https://doi.org/10.1093/chemse/bjx006
  7. Donald Leopold; Distortion of Olfactory Perception: Diagnosis and Treatment, Chemical Senses, Volume 27, Issue 7, 1 September 2002, Pages 611–615, https://doi.org/10.1093/chemse/27.7.611
  8. Leopold DA, Loehrl TA, Schwob JE. Long-term Follow-up of Surgically Treated Phantosmia. Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2002;128(6):642–647. - (https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamaotolaryngology/fullarticle/482912)
  9. Henkin RI, Potolicchio SJ, Levy LM. Olfactory Hallucinations without Clinical Motor Activity: A Comparison of Unirhinal with Birhinal Phantosmia. Brain Sciences. 2013;3(4):1483- 1553. - (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4061890/)
  10. Landis BN, Reden J, Haehner A. Idiopathic phantosmia: Outcome and clinical significance. ORL J Otorhinolaryngol Relat Spec. 2010;72(5):252-5. - (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20714205)
  11. Morrissey DK et al. The role of surgery in the management of phantosmia. The Laryngoscope. 2016;126:575-578. - (http://www.sbccp.org.br/arquivos/LG2016-03/lary.25647.pdf)

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