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Phantosmia

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I wrote a while ago about my smoke nose. The chronic, disgusting, burning sensation that there is always someone smoking a cigarette in my presence. Except no one is.

I finally screwed up the courage to consult Dr. Google and found the word “phantosmia,” which basically means “olfactory hallucinations.”

So the tiny person who runs my nose is tripping on acid and smoking like a chimney at the same time. Or something like that.

People, here’s the problem when you consult Dr. Google like I did.

You find all sorts of people who are convinced that they are dying.

A Google of “I smell smoke all the time when no one around me is smoking” yields results that would make Dr. House happy. (Yes, that’s what I Googled first, followed by “pregnant smelling smoke all the time” and variations of the same. Keywords are not necessarily my thing.)

What I found first was that I’m most certainly not alone with my smoke nose. There are others like me. We should get together and form a support group.

What I found second was that no one seems to know what causes this but everyone loves to speculate. Probably because everyone loves to go on those message boards proclaiming “THIS IS THE WEIRDEST THING EVER!” and then never go to a medical professional about it.

Possible causes, as far as I can tell, include, but are not, I’m sure, limited to:

  • a brain tumor
  • a nose tumor
  • indigestion
  • sinusitis
  • blocked smell receptors in the brain
  • depression
  • acid reflux
  • trauma of the head, face, or sinus variety
  • drainage issues in the ears
  • a tiny person in one’s nose tripping on acid and smoking like a chimney

Seriously. The most jumped-to conclusion on the message boards I found were “I have a brain tumor. I must be dying. Get me an MRI, a CT scan, and a transplant. STAT!”

All the boards were full of people going “OMG! I HAVE THIS TOO!” and no one actually offering up what his/her doctor had to say about it. Which means that either they went and the doctor said “Oh, look, a CIGARETTE lodged up your NOSE” and they felt stupid or they died and couldn’t come back to tell us all about the brain tumors since apparently there’s no internet in the afterlife.

So, I’m stuck with a nose that imagines it is smelling cigarette smoke all the time for no apparent reason. Except I’m pretty certain I don’t have a brain tumor so we can probably rule that one out.

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Mary

Tuesday 3rd of September 2019

Interesting. I have the same thing. I noticed it for the first time around a week postpartum with baby #4. It was the 4th of July and we had people over. I was convinced that someone left cigarette butts on my screen porch, but they weren’t there.

I haven’t had caffeine in over 10 years (not even chocolate) so it’s not caffeine for me. I’m chalking it up to hormones and hoping it goes away once things even out. My baby is 10 weeks old.

Coleen

Saturday 4th of August 2018

I love this article and wonder if there is still a dialogue or even a support group by now? My story started in February and I've finally decided I'm not dying and I don't have a brain tumor but I still have so many questions!

Coleen

Saturday 4th of August 2018

Replying to my own comment as I just noticed the recent posts. My smell is almost always ashtray, smoke, or dirty /dusty window screens. I can so relate to the Chad's explanation of "feeling the particles deep in the back of the nasal passage. In fact for a while that's what made me think it was something else. Mine often kick starts when I get in the car or get to work and sit at my desk. Have also noticed when eating hard, or crunch things like apples or shredded wheat. Many many doctors and fearful months later the ENT did a CT scan of my passages and frontal part of my brain and phantosmia is what we landed on. I am doing a prescription liquid steroid mixed in with the neti pot solution to tame any inflammation right now. Will it ever go away? Will it get worse?

Amy

Sunday 1st of July 2018

It's caused by caffeine. With me it's only with a caffeine pill or super strong coffee. Others may be more sensitive. When I read "cigarette" I'm thinking...ehh maybe... I first called it "dirt"... then I read someone who called it "corn chips" and yeah- I'm going with corn chips. I wish I knew how to make it go away Bc I enjoy caffeine!! Today I dabbed some lavender oil under my nose, but it's not helping too much. Gonna experiment with other lotions and oils and report back on what works best. These caffeine corn chips are deep up in there!! It's definitely caffeine though peeps!! Ironic that you're having this discussion on a website called caffeineandcabernet!!

Chad

Monday 4th of June 2018

I have been trying to figure out what I've been smelling for the past 4 years! It's been driving me and my family crazy. The smell is definitely in the smoke category - you can almost feel the particles deep in the back of your nasal passage. The smell would come and go - I wanted to blame it on my wife's cooking, she uses a lot of garlic and red pepper powder but no one else has an issue with a lingering smell. Yesterday, we went on a long drive to our child's event and I had two large cups of coffee before eating food (just forgot to eat.) We had a pretty stressful day and then went out to eat at a Thai restaurant. At the restaurant I noticed that I "smelled that smell" and it had been a long time since I smelled it (at least a couple of months). The smell followed me home and bothered me all night. I also had insomnia from having too much coffee without food to start the day and that gave me the connection of the phantom smell and caffeine so I started googling first thing this morning. I really think that caffeine + stress + some smell trigger is the culprit. We aren't going crazy!!!

Phantosmia Sufferer

Saturday 18th of November 2017

I’m smelling exhaust fumes right now and it’s driving me nuts! I experience three phantom smells from time to time: cigarette smoke, car exhaust, and pencil shavings. I googled “phantosmia support group” and this Site was the first thing that came up R0FL!

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