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When you can feel an imaginary odour, that probably no one else around you can sense, then the medical term associated with this feeling is phantosmia. This feeling is also known as olfactory hallucination. The smell is mostly unpleasant and only the person with this kind of a hallucination can smell the odours, while others (in the same vicinity) cannot. The smell could be so intensely bad that it could spoil the taste of any drink or food that you are consuming. The smell could either be in one or in both the nostrils.
This phantom odour is actually not present at all, hence the term hallucination. The smell could be like something that is spoiled, rotten, burned or foul. In general, when one is said to have phantosmia, then he or she is likely to detect smells that are in reality not present in the surrounding environment.
Is Phantosmia Common?
A few people do have such episodes of phantom smells, and they usually go away on their own. But if they keep coming back then it could be a thing of concern.
People can notice a range of odours. The most common ones are:
• Chemicals such as ammonia
• Rotten fruits/vegetables
• Burning rubber
• Cigarette smoke
What Are The Causes Of Phantosmia?
Phantosmia tends to occur after a head injury and sometimes when there is an upper respiratory infection.
However, most of the time, the case of phantosmia is said to be associated with a problem in the nose or the mouth rather than the brain.
Some of the nose-related issues that cause these hallucinations are:
• Common cold
• Nasal polyps
• Irritation due to poor quality of air
Other common causes are:
• Dental issues
• Radiation treatment
• Exposure to neurotoxins
The less common causes are:
• Alzheimer's disease
• Brain tumour
• Parkinson's disease
How Is Phantosmia Diagnosed?
Identifying the underlying cause is the most efficient way of diagnosing this ailment. Your doctor would begin with a physical examination that would involve checking your eyes, head, neck and nose. You would need to tell your doctor the kind of odours that you smell. Your doctor would also ask you if you feel the unpleasant odour in one or both the nostrils. How long the odours are smelt is also important to make an accurate diagnosis.
If a nose-related cause is suspected, then you might be recommended to go for an endoscopy. This would give the doctor a chance to have a better look inside the nasal cavity to check for the underlying cause.
In case the physical examination does not help the doctor to determine the particular cause then you might need to get an MRI scan or a CT scan done. This is essential to rule out any possible neurological conditions. An electroencephalogram might be done to measure the electrical activity of your brain.
A doctor is also the best person to detect if the problem is with the sense of smell or taste. If not, then it could hint at a psychiatric or a neurological disorder.
How Is Phantosmia Treated?
If the main cause of phantosmia is a sinus infection, cold or a respiratory infection, then the symptoms of this odour hallucination would go away on its own once the illness heals.
However, if the underlying cause behind the occurrence of phantosmia is a neurological issue, then there could be a few complications. The treatment approach depends on the type of underlying condition and also its location. The doctor would be able to identify a treatment plan that would be most appropriate to treat your health condition after also taking your lifestyle into consideration.
The following can give you some relief from the symptoms of phantosmia:
• Use oxymetazoline spray - This would help in reducing any form of nasal congestion.
• Rinse your nasal passages - Do this using a saline solution. This can be repeated several times throughout the day to attain relief from the unpleasant smell. Nasal sprays create a blockage that prevents any air from entering the olfactory cleft.
• An anaesthetic spray can be used to numb the olfactory nerve cells.
• Antidepressant medication such as a serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor can relieve the symptoms of phantosmia.
The primary cause behind phantosmia for most people is the issue with sinus. However, there could be serious neurological conditions associated with it as well. It is therefore important that you seek medical advice to receive a proper diagnosis. If it is not serious, your doctor would be able to rule out any serious underlying cause behind these odour hallucinations. A doctor would also be able to help you with how you can minimize the symptoms of this ailment and prevent it from upsetting your daily lifestyle.