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Phantosmia : Causes, Diagnosis and Treatment

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You might have heard that people get visual hallucinations. Have you ever heard someone getting hallucinations due to smell? It’s not a myth. It happens, and the condition is called phantosmia. In this blog, let’s delve deep into the condition to understand it better and detect the symptoms early. 

What is Phantosmia? 

Phantosmia refers to olfactory hallucinations, which occur when the organs that detect smell mistakenly detect odors that are not present. 

When you have phantosmia, the smells you get may range from those that almost make you sick to those that are pleasant. Most phantosmia sufferers have a strong sense of smell. Typically, the scents come and go. 

What are the Common Smells That You May Feel If You Have Phantosmia? 

A few smells seem more prevalent, even though patients with phantosmia can detect various odors—smells of cigarettes, ammonia, burning rubber, rotten things, or sewage. While unpleasant fragrances are typically connected with phantosmia, some people have also reported smelling pleasant odors. 

What are the Causes of Phantosmia? 

According to experts, a few factors can cause nasal hallucinations. Some of them are: 

Some other common causes of phantosmia are common colds, sinus infections, poor air quality, growth in the nasal cavity, or allergies. It can also happen due to dental problems, migraines, radiation treatments, and upper respiratory infections.  

What other reasons may make you feel like you have phantosmia even if you don’t? 

There are chances of people misjudging the real odour change in the environment to be phantosmia. If you cannot, in one glance, find out the source of an odour, and check your air vents. It may be dirty, and a smell may come out of it. It can also be from the mattress, cosmetic item, or other products you use. Check each source carefully; if you cannot find anything, seek professional help and speak with your doctor about any odours you may have noticed. 


How to Diagnose Phantosmia? 

To rule out any other underlying causes, such as a brain tumor, the healthcare provider may perform a comprehensive physical examination and inquire about your medical history. They may examine your nose, ears, neck, and head area to check for abnormalities. If the doctor doubts a problem related to the nose, they may prescribe an endoscopy to look inside the nasal cavity. They may also ask for a CT, MRI, or electroencephalogram to check the neurological activity.  

Doctors may also need to rule out parosmia, a condition similar to phantosmia. When this happens, your nose picks up odors that aren’t truly present. You might be smelling a banana, for instance, but smell rotten flesh. Parosmia typically results from nasal tissue damage caused by an upper respiratory infection. 

Tastes and smells have a significant impact on how you feel. Pleasant aromas can lift your mood. However, phantosmia may cause you to frequently smell unpleasant odors, which may lower your quality of life. It could also result in depression, reduced appetite, and weight loss. In addition, there are other risks, like missing the scent of rotting food or a gas leak. 

Suppose the condition remains for more extended periods. In that case, it may make it impossible for you to perform your job effectively if you work in a profession that needs a keen sense of smell, such as cooking, perfumery, or firefighting. 

What are the treatment options for phantosmia? 

You might need to see multiple medical professionals to treat  problems like phantosmia, mainly if the disease is due to damage or a head injury. To determine what’s producing the scents, your doctor may order several lab tests and perform a physical examination. According to the results, management of the underlying condition is done.

There is no cure for phantosmia brought on by a viral infection like COVID-19 or a head injury. However, the nasal cavity and your nose’s injured nerves do have the capacity to regenerate. Sometimes, even without medical intervention, your sense of smell may partially or entirely return. 


While minor ailments can frequently cause phantosmia, the condition can signify more severe neurological disorders. To rule out any underlying conditions requiring treatment, discuss with your doctor if your symptoms last more than a day or two. They can also offer advice on reducing your symptoms, so phantosmia doesn’t interfere with your daily activities. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

What is the difference between parosmia and phantosmia? 

Phantosmia is a condition that makes one feel that they smell odours not present in the environment. But people with parosmia can detect the smell around them, but it may smell different .  

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