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Dysomia: What Exactly Are “Phantom Smells”?

Dysomia: What Exactly Are “Phantom Smells”?
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phantom smells

Dysomia is a condition that causes a distortion of smell. It can cause an individual to smell odors that are not actually present, such as smelling cigarette smoke when there is no one around smoking cigarettes. These are commonly referred to as “phantom smells.” It can also cause the individual to smell odors completely different than they actually are, such as smelling a rose and thinking that it smells like lavender.

What Causes Dysomia?

Dysomia does not occur on its own. It occurs as a result of another underlying condition, including but not limited to the following:

  • Neurological disorders/diseases
  • Head trauma
  • Nasal polyps
  • Nasal tumors
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Nutrient deficiency
  • Dental issues
  • Aging
  • Using certain medications
  • Sinus infections

dysomia causes

Types of Dysomia

There are two main types of dysomia:


Phantosmia occurs when a patient smells an odor that is not physically present at the time. The most common phenomenon is smelling cigarette smoke with no actual exposure to someone smoking cigarettes. Patients can also smell perfume or cologne when there is no one around wearing any. Phantosmia is often fleeting, only lasting a few seconds to minutes at a time. When phantosmia lasts longer than a few minutes, it is called an “olfactory hallucination.”


Parosmia occurs when a patient has a distorted sense of smell. This means that they smell odors completely different than the rest of the population does. For instance, a patient can sniff a piece of cinnamon bark and believe that it smells like lemon. Parosmia can also cause patients to abruptly hate smells that they once found pleasant. This phenomenon is often experienced by pregnant women due to the hormonal imbalance that happens during pregnancy.

Symptoms of Dysomia

  • Smelling an odor that is not present
  • Suddenly finding certain odors unpleasant
  • Misinterpreting one odor as something else

phantom smells

Diagnosing Dysomia

If your doctor suspects that you are experiencing dysomia, they will refer you to an ENT, or ear, nose and throat specialist. An ENT can perform a thorough examination of your nasal passages to examine them for polyps or other disorders. They will likely send you for diagnostic imaging, such as a CT (computed tomography) or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan to rule out serious underlying causes, such as neurological disorders or tumors. They may also order blood panels to check your hormone levels.

Treating Dysomia

In some cases, dysomia may resolve on its own. If not, and it continues to disturb the patient, it may need medical intervention. Medical intervention would consist of treating the underlying cause of the dysomia. For instance, if your dysomia is occurring due to medication, you may need to be switched to another medication or change your dosage. If your dysomia is caused by nasal polyps, removing the polyps often resolves the dysomia. Dysomia that is caused by hormonal issues can typically be resolved with hormone therapy. For dysomia that cannot be resolved, it is important for the patient to understand that it is not a dangerous occurrence, but rather a discomfort or disturbance that many people eventually adapt to.

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