Phantosmia is a condition that causes you to detect smells that aren’t actually in your environment. It can happen in one nostril or both — and the odors may be foul or pleasant. Common causes include colds, allergies, nasal polyps and dental issues. Treatment depends on the underlying cause.
Phantosmia (pronounced “fan–TAAZ–mee–uh”) is a condition that causes you to detect smells that aren’t actually present in your environment (phantom smells). These odors may be pleasant or unpleasant, occasional or constant. Phantosmia can affect one or both nostrils.
In most cases, phantosmia isn’t a cause for concern and will go away in time. However, in rare instances, it could indicate a more serious health condition, such as Parkinson’s disease, stroke or a brain tumor.
Another name for phantosmia is olfactory hallucinations.
Phantosmia isn’t very common. When it comes to disorders that affect your sense of smell, phantosmia makes up 10% to 20% of cases.
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Phantosmia refers to any smell you detect that isn’t actually there. For some people, these odors are pleasant, like freshly baked sweets. But most people describe unpleasant smells, such as:
Some people detect smells they can’t identify or odors they’ve never noticed before.
Common phantosmia causes include:
Many people also develop phantosmia after a COVID-19 infection.
Less commonly, phantosmia may be a sign of:
First, a healthcare provider will need to determine why you’re having phantom smells. Determining the underlying cause will help them choose an appropriate path of treatment.
During this appointment, a provider will examine your nose, ears, head and neck. They’ll also ask questions about your symptoms, including what kinds of odors you smell, how long they last and whether you smell them in one or both nostrils.
Your healthcare provider may need to run certain tests to find out what’s causing you to smell phantom odors. These tests may include:
It depends on the underlying cause. When phantosmia is a result of colds, allergies or infections, the phantom smells should stop once you recover.
Treating neurological (brain-related) cases of phantosmia is more challenging. There are different treatments depending on the exact cause. For example, people who have epilepsy may need medication or surgery. A person with a brain tumor will need chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy.
Once your healthcare provider determines the root cause of phantosmia, they’ll recommend the appropriate treatment.
People with phantosmia may find relief with these home remedies:
You can’t prevent phantosmia because it’s often a symptom of other unpreventable illnesses and conditions. However, once you find out what caused phantosmia, you can take steps to reduce your risk.
To reduce your risk of phantosmia, avoid potential triggers and make any necessary lifestyle changes:
Phantosmia is usually temporary and should go away in a few weeks. But your symptoms may linger if a neurological issue is the cause. You should see a healthcare provider if phantom smells last for more than a few weeks.
The answer to this question is different for everyone. If phantosmia is a result of a cold or infection, symptoms should go away once your condition improves. But if phantosmia is a result of a neurological issue, then symptoms can linger much longer — sometimes, for years.
If you have phantom smells that last more than three weeks, you should call a healthcare provider. In most cases, phantosmia should go away once you’ve recovered from the underlying illness.
If you or a loved one has phantosmia, here are some questions you may want to ask your healthcare provider:
Phantosmia is when you detect smells that aren’t there, while parosmia refers to a distorted sense of smell. These conditions share many of the same causes. Like phantosmia, parosmia treatment depends on the underlying cause.
No, but phantosmia may be a symptom of some mood disorders and mental health conditions, including schizophrenia.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Phantosmia refers to detecting smells that aren’t really there. It’s a symptom of many common conditions, including allergies, colds and upper respiratory infections. It could also indicate a brain-related condition, including epilepsy, stroke or Alzheimer’s disease. If you have phantom smells that last longer than a few weeks, schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider. They can determine the underlying cause and recommend the appropriate treatment.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 03/07/2023.
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