Have you ever heard the term " olfactory hallucination "? An olfactory hallucination or phantosmia is a condition in which a person feels an odor that does not exist in the environment at all.


A person with phantosmia can inhale an odor that does not exist at all in one or both nostrils.

Sometimes it is also called "phantom smell", phantom means imaginary and absurd.


What you will read next: 


Characteristics of olfactory hallucination or phantosmia

What odors are most common in people with phantomsemia?

Causes of phantosmia

Diagnosis of phantosmia

Treatment of phantosmia 


Characteristics of olfactory hallucination or phantosmia

The olfactory hallucination has the following special features:

  • The odors that are inhaled vary from person to person.
  • Smells can be pleasant or unpleasant, but inhaling unpleasant odors, such as the smell of burns, is more common.
  • Smells are felt in one or both nostrils.
  • Perceived odors can exist continuously or be disconnected and reconnected.


What odors are most common in people with phantosmia?

As mentioned earlier, each infected person smells different, but the most common odors in phantosmia are:


  • The smell of burning rubber
  • Smell of cigarette smoke
  • Smell of burning wood and firewood
  • Smell of ammonia and other compounds
  • The smell of rotten food 


Other odors in phantosmia

The prevalence of the above is higher than the following odors:

  • Unknown pleasant scent
  • perfume smell


Causes of phantosmia




There are a number of reasons that a person may feel an odor that has no external presence at all in their environment. Causes range from problems with the nose and sinuses to seizures and brain damage.


We divide the causes of phantosmia into two categories:

  1. Common causes of phantasmia

  2. Less common causes of phantosmia



  1. Common causes of phantosmia:

Causes of nasal problems (most common)

These problems include the following:


  • Respiratory allergies
  • Sinusitis (inflammation or infection of the airways)
  • Nasal polyps
  • Irritation of the nasal mucosa with environmental pollutants
  • Stimulate the nose with cigarette smoke and pipe
  • Viral colds


Apart from these common causes, we come to the following reasons, which are also relatively common:

  • Respiratory tract infections
  • Exposure to substances that cause nerve damage (neurotoxins), such as mercury or lead
  • Migraine headache
  • Head and neck radiation therapy
  • Sometimes some dental problems


  1. Less common causes of phantosmia

These less common causes include the following:

  • Trauma and brain injury
  • Brain tumors
  • Strokes
  • Epilepsy (especially temporal lobe epilepsy)
  • Neuroblastoma (a malignant tumor that is more common in children under 6 years of age)
  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Parkinson's disease


It should be noted that although these causes are less common than the common cases mentioned above, they require specialized examination and measures and in some cases (strokes and cerebrovascular problems) are very urgent.


Diagnosis of phantosmia

When you see a doctor with a sense of olfactory hallucination, your doctor will examine your nose and airways after taking a detailed history; it is possible to use an endoscopic device of the nose and sinuses to examine the sinuses or nasal polyps. If your doctor can't find one of the most common causes of phantosmia in you and your phantom is recurrent, a CT scan or MRI may be ordered to examine the brain.


An electroencephalogram or electroencephalometry is sometimes used to look for brain waves to diagnose temporal lobe epilepsy.


Treatment of phantosmia

Keep in mind that in cases where the cause of your phantom is a cold or inflammation and infection of your respiratory system, as these diseases improve, the damaged olfactory nerve cells will also heal and the phantom will go away.


You can use the following tips to help improve the phantosmia caused by colds and inflammation of the respiratory system and sinuses:

Rinse the nasal passages with normal saline

If you have nasal congestion and fullness, you can use nasal spray (Oxymetazoline).


If the cause is neuroblastoma or brain tumors, specific treatments for each tumor may include:

  • Surgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • And radiation therapy is required.


In cases where migraine or temporal epilepsy is the cause of your phantosmia, seeing an experienced neurologist and following treatment tips can control migraine or epileptic seizures well.


Other causes of phantosmia

It is interesting to note that there are some cases that can cause olfactory hallucinations in a healthy person without any problems, these causes are:


  • Use a new detergent to wash your hair and body
  • Clothes that have been washed with a new detergent
  • Newly purchased and used mattresses or pillows
  • Hygienic and cosmetic face cream
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