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A symptom I didn't tell my doctor but should have: phantom smells

Do you experience phantom smells?

  • I don't experience phantom odors.

    Votes: 6 31.6%
  • I experience unpleasant phantom odors, like trash, wet dogs, rotten eggs, and so forth.

    Votes: 12 63.2%
  • I experience pleasant phantom odors, like baked goods, fresh fruit, and so forth.

    Votes: 4 21.1%

  • Total voters
I always figured "smelling things that aren't there" would be something a doctor would have maybe not heard of and not know what to do with, but turns out it's a thing.

Also, it's neurological.


“By all means, a phantom smell could mean something serious,” says the psychiatrist and nationally recognized smell and taste expert. “It absolutely needs to be evaluated. It could be a tumor – that’s on the top of your list of things to rule out — but it could also be a cyst or some infectious agent housed in the area of the brain where the smell is processed.

Brief episodes of phantom smells or phantosmia — smelling something that’s not there — can be triggered by temporal lobe seizures, epilepsy, or head trauma. Phantosmia is also associated with Alzheimer’s and occasionally with the onset of a migraine.

It's usually a bad smell.

Do you smell stuff when other people don't?

I smell things from their list, like a gas leak and wet dog, and stuff not on the list, like cat pee and cigarette smoke. Also some that aren't bad like apricots and baked goods.

Here's the list:

Sufferers report smelling hydrogen sulfide (rotten eggs), bad perfume, garbage, a gas leak, wet dog, pungent body odor or spoiled fish or feces.

Rufous McKinney

Senior Member
"smelling things that aren't there"

This started happening to me when I was acutely worsening about a year ago. It doesn't happen to the degree it was then, as I'm not as bad off in that regard at this moment. I was also having much more OI and fainting and stuff around then.

My friend who does not have this illness told me she developed this, had a medical name for it, it subsided for her I think.

My husband has now promised not to buy the Dr. Bronners mint soap. It smells to me like benzene, still.

I do develop substantial "aversions" to things because the smell of it parks in my sinus and seems to not leave.

Certain spices, neem for instance.

The tissue is inflamed in my sinuses,dry and inflamed. I think it sends misfiring messages. Then the inflammed brain sends mis-interpretation messages.


Senior Member
I smelled dog who wasn't there once but thought it was a ghostly phenomenon. It made me happy at the time.

But I do have a very weird sense of smell. I can smell things from miles away when out walking for instance. Food cooking, and can usually tell what...potatoes, greens, and what sort of meat etc. Or if it's pizza. Whether they are using onions or garlic....
No houses in sight. But I think that is a genuine physical kind of smell coming on the wind.

Olfactory hallucinations (with the exception of a spirit dog's visit) then no. I haven't had that yet.


Senior Member
I told my neurologist about it bec its a big problem for me.He was surprized,somehow.Told me his Parkinson patients seem to have similar

In a book about complex dieseases (where the Author claims they do have all the same root cause)is mentioned that it is known that ALS patients have these problems with smells too.

He claims these smell sensivity has to do with the Liver.


Improved ME from 2 to 6
Alexandria, VA USA
It really doesn't serve any purpose not to tell your GP about the problems you have. If you don't trust him/her then they shouldn't be your doc.


Senior Member
Michigan USA
My experience has been a little different than the pleasant versus unpleasant phantom odors. Instead, about 4 or 5 years ago, I began occasionally experiencing phantom smells that are attached to my memories. You know how a smell can cue a memory? That is what I have been experiencing... I smell something for just a very brief moment (a smell that is not actually occuring in my environment at that time), and then I instantly recall a memory that is attached to that smell.

I have no idea what is causing this, and have not talked to a doctor about it. Maybe I should though. This thread is interesting and making me more curious about the topic.

Like I said, for me it has not been a matter of whether the smell is pleasant or foul. It is more like random memories are being cued and recalled through their connection with phantom smells that I experience. It happens and is over with very quickly. I hope that adding this aspect isn't taking the thread off topic. Does anyone have ideas or information that they can share about this phantom smell connected with memory recall experience?
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Senior Member
Smell and taste distortion also occur in hypothyroidism. I used to smell cat pee in the supermarket for a while. And at times, everything tasted of mould. On thyroid meds it mostly went away. My B12 level and cortisol aren't optimal yet, so my thyroid could still function better.
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I sometimes smell (and sometimes taste) cigarette butts. I've never smoked, I just know the smell from hanging out with smokers in college. I have chronic migraine, so I assume it's related to that. It also seems to happen when IBS symptoms flare up.


Senior Member
Glad I saw this by accident. I suspect I have this frequently but I’m never sure whether real or not… some situations it would be impossible to know. But now I’ll have to be aware that if I’m complaining about smell in say a motel room, I’ll have to consider it may be phantom? I have sensory issues anyway and every smell bothers my nose.
Could it be related to the experience of getting a tune or song stuck in you head? I currently have had one days and very annoying. Are these things neurological and related to “ intrusive thoughts” or part of brain that obsesses? This is fascinating.

Rufous McKinney

Senior Member
Mine seemed to be lost in translation- that I am smelling "something which smells" but instead of baked beans and hotdogs, the downstairs dinner, its benzene.

RE: stuck music- I have this big time. Music is often running on, in my brain along wiht any number of other trends and thoughts.

I really have to watch playing a song more than once. altho this does't bother me especially.

Except last week emerged, while doing dishes, the theme song to a 1950s TV sit com I never watched because I was probably three. Then, a few moments later, I'm singing the Cheers theme song. I rarely if ever watched Cheers.

A category of why some of us may be more brain tired, is we have multiple ongoing threads of narrative and realities, going on at the same time.

Rufous McKinney

Senior Member
Are these things neurological and related to “ intrusive thoughts” or part of brain that obsesses? This is fascinating.

just read they did a study and believe we have the capacity to think FOUR Things at the same time, and generally have about 6000 thoughts per day.


GABA has something to do with the obsessing...as taking a bit of, say Xanax, entirely stops it in my case.