Smelling perfume or other odors out of nowhere when there’s no one around?
Don’t panic just yet, but you might have reason to be concerned.
Smelling odors out of nowhere might be a sign of phantosmia. Phantosmia is a condition which causes “olfactory hallucinations”, phantom smells. It could be a result of a previous incident, such as head trauma, stroke, or seizure, or an indication of another medical condition, such as a brain tumor.
If you’re consistently experiencing a strange smell or the scent of some unknown perfume, you should contact your doctor.
Let’s take a closer look at the potential causes and symptoms of phantosmia.
What Is Phantosmia?
Phantosmia, also known as “phantom smell” and “olfactory hallucination”, is a medical condition which causes smells to appear out of nowhere.
It’s closely linked to anosmia (a lack of sense of smell), hyposmia (a diminished sense of smell), and parosmia (a twisted or distorted sense of smell – for instance, instead of smelling perfume, you smell rotting garbage).
Most of the time, the odors which are hallucinated aren’t very pleasant – wet dog, rotting garbage, fish, feces, and bad BO are just a few of the usual suspects for sufferers of phantosmia. However, smelling perfume is not uncommon.
What Causes Phantosmia?
The causes of phantosmia are manifold.
The basic cause of phantosmia is either due to olfactory neurons transmitting false signals to the brain, or due to certain brain cells creating a false odor drawn from the brain’s memory bank.
In the most extreme cases, phantosmia might be an early warning indication of a brain tumor, cyst, or a parasite in the brain. It can also be an early indication for the development of neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s.
Patients with Alzheimer’s disease, AIDS, diabetes, schizophrenia, or clinical depression can likewise develop symptoms of phantosmia.
Of course, if you’re experiencing phantosmia you shouldn’t necessarily jump straight to the conclusion that you’ve got a brain tumor. It’s just one of the many possible causes of phantosmia.
You should also look to your medical history.
One of the most common causes of phantosmia are temporal lobe seizures. If you have epilepsy, a disease characterized by seizures, it’s likely that you might develop symptoms of phantosmia at some point. Head trauma, allergies, sinus infections, and upper respiratory infections can also cause phantosmia.
Phantosmia and COVID-19
Lastly, some patients suffering or recovering from COVID-19 have reported symptoms of phantosmia. It has been well publicized that COVID-19 can cause anosmia, i.e. the loss of sense of smell, or hyposmia, a diminished sense of smell, but some have reported suffering from phantosmia as well, though to a far lesser extent than those who reported suffering from anosmia and hyposmia.
Just as with anosmia and hyposmia, patients recovering from COVID-19 have described symptoms of phantosmia lingering long after the symptoms of COVID-19 had gone. The science behind COVID-19’s effects on the brain is still in its infancy, and therefore it is still unknown why COVID has such a particular influence on smell and taste.
Still, if you have recovered from COVID-19 and are experiencing symptoms of phantosmia, you might have a likely culprit.
In most cases, episodes of phantosmia will be fleeting, passing on its own after a couple of minutes or days without the need for treatment.
However, if the phantosmia is serious, there are some options available, though there is no single best treatment option since the disorder is relatively rare and varies wildly from individual to individual.
If left untreated, however, it might lead to depression, weight loss, and loss of appetite due to unpleasant odors.
Phantosmia is also difficult to properly diagnose, due to the fact that olfactory disorders are closely related and sometimes poorly understood by medical professionals. Patients might also have difficulty describing their symptoms, and in some cases have been mistakenly diagnosed as mentally ill, when in reality they were not.
However, if you are suffering from phantosmia, you do have some treatment options at your disposal.
There are some medications which may provide relief, such as medicated nasal sprays, certain antidepressants, anticonvulsants, sedatives, and anesthetics.
In the most extreme cases, though, surgery might be necessary. The most common surgery involves removing the epithelium of the olfactory bulb. However, this can be a dangerous procedure, and there is a risk of losing your sense of smell altogether.
Such a risky surgery should only be considered as a last resort.
In cases which involve COVID-19, though, there is no known treatment. Research on COVID’s effects on smell and taste is still underway, and doctors still don’t know how best to address them. However, people recovering from COVID have reported that their sense of smell and taste gradually returned over a period of months.
And it should be stressed that in the vast majority of cases of phantosmia, symptoms disappear on their own after a period of time. Though it’s true that there have been years or decades-long episodes of phantosmia, these are regarded as outliers.
If you think you are experiencing phantosmia, the best thing to do is to wait and see if your olfactory hallucinations continue over an extended period of time. You might only be having a temporary episode of phantosmia.
But if you experience olfactory hallucinations continuously, then it might be time to arrange a doctors’ appointment.
The Final Word
So, to recap:
If you’re smelling perfume or other odors out of nowhere, you might be experiencing phantosmia. Phantosmia consists of “phantom smells” or “olfactory hallucinations”, often of very unpleasant smells or perfume. Phantosmia might be a warning sign of a serious medical disorder, such as a brain tumor, or the result of a past incident.
Usually episodes of olfactory hallucination will end on their own after a short period of time, without requiring any treatment. However, in serious cases of phantosmia, medication or even surgery might be required to alleviate symptoms.
If you’re smelling perfume out of nowhere though, don’t panic. Just because you’re smelling things out of nowhere doesn’t mean that it’s a brain thing, and there might be a far simpler explanation.
However, even if you do turn out to be experiencing olfactory hallucinations, there’s not necessarily any cause for alarm. Wait and see if the symptoms disappear after a period of time.
If you continue to experience phantom smells, though, touch base with your doctor. There’s nothing wrong with playing things safe.