Researchers say some people experience phantom odors

According to a research study at NIH, one in 15 Americans experience phantom odor perception.
By Karen Saltos | Jan 03, 2019
A small percentage of people frequently smell odors that are not there. According to a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association on August 16, 2018, about one in 15 Americans over the age of 40 regularly experience phantom odors.

The study, led by the National Institute of Health researchers, is the largest to take a close look at the issue. "We knew that phantom odor perception had been observed in medical clinics, but we did not know how common this condition was, nor what types of people are more commonly affected," said Kathleen Bainbridge, a researcher at the National Institutes on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.

Bainbridge and her team studied information from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. They looked at more than 7,000 people over the age of 40 who had taken the survey from 2011 - 2014.

Of these, 6.5 percent answered yes to a question asking if they ever sometimes smelled "an unpleasant, bad, or burning odor when nothing was there." The findings provide a few clues as to why these odors happen.

For one, women were more likely to experience phantom odors than men were. In addition, women were less likely to report these smells the older they were.

This suggests that whatever the cause might be it most likely is not tied to the declining sense of smell that almost everyone goes through as they age.

Other risk factors associated with phantom odors included head injury, dry mouth, and low socioeconomic status. Burning odors tend to be the most common smell.


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