My sniffer is broken - any suggestions?

For the last month, I’ve been smelling phantom smells, and things that would normally smell pleasant have smelled terrible.

It’s the weirdest thing - one day I kept smelling cigarette smoke. I thought maybe I was sitting downwind from a smoking co-worker and got some secondhand smoke. I showered, washed my hair and changed my clothes after I went home, but could still smell the cigarette smoke. For days. Then I was smelling this acrid smell, sort of off and on. I even thought it was me - I changed my body wash and deodorant, but could still smell it. No one else seemed to be bothered by it. Then food started smelling just horrible - to the point where I didn’t want to cook or walk into the breakroom at work.

I used my neti pot, thinking maybe I had some sort of sinus infection, despite not being stuffy or in pain. Nothing. Does anyone have any suggestions?


Well, not to make light of the situation or alarm you, but if I learned anything from the too-soon-canceled detective show “The Unusuals” it is that phantom smells can indicate a brain tumor.

Edit: I didn’t mean to leave my only cite as a fictional TV show. Here’s a link on the subject of phantom smells:

I’d see a doctor.

Oliver Sacks’ last book, Hallucinations, describes something very similar, but in the context of people who had lost all or some of their sense of smell - anosmia or parosmia/dysosmia, I think - and whose minds were doing weird things as a result.

I’m not qualified to render an opinion about it one way or another, and there’s no real recommendation to be had from the book, but your description really is strikingly similar. Maybe check it out.

Everyone would just be making wild guesses, imho. I think the two of the most common cause are head injury and respiratory tract infection. I guess I will be the first of many to say “You should probably ask your doctor”*.

Did anything unusual happen before the problem started?

*umm, second I guess.

If you’re the owner of a uterus, you might want to have a pregnancy test.

IANAD, but don’t fuck around with this any more. Go see a Dr. NOW!

Have one, currently unused and thankfully vacant.

No head injury, but in Tennessee sinus issues are sadly common. Annual doctor visit in January. I’ll mention it if it’s still an issue.

I like Oliver Sacks’ work and will be glad to read it. My library has it on the shelf right now. Strangely, I remember my grandmother had virtually no sense of taste or smell. I don’t know when that started with her.

See above. I usually only go to the doctor once a year to get my thyroid levels checked and my prescription for thyroid hormone renewed. If things seem to be going south, I’ll make an appointment. Cancer is unfortunately common in my family, my mother had it twice and my non-smoking father died of lung cancer. I do sometimes have migraines, although non in this period.

Thank you all for your input. I welcome any others


Various vitamin and mineral deficiencies can impact your sense of smell, so it definitely doesn’t have to be something as serious as a brain tumor. But you absolutely should see a doctor. While there, be sure to go over any medications you are taking, whether prescription or over-the-counter. They can also potentially impact your sense of smell.

A quick google found an article on PubMed, Defects of taste and smell in patients with hypothyroidism

You might want to have your levels checked sooner rather than later.

I’d make at least a passing reference even if it settles back to normal. If it happened to me out of the blue my first scare would be “holy crap! Did I have a stroke?”

I think you should see the doctor a hell of a lot sooner than January. This isn’t really the innocuous thing you seem to think it is. If your nose isn’t working properly, it could indicate something seriously wrong with your brain.

That’s interesting. I’ve had my thyroid removed and am solely on artificial hormone. My thyroid wasn’t cancerous, but my sister, aunt and nephew have had thyroid cancer. My levels might be out of whack. I’ve also gained weight recently, and I don’t normally gain much weight. I attributed it to aging (I’m 52). Maybe if food continues to smell bad I’ll lose that extra weight.

CarnalK - I didn’t have any suspicions at first, I thought it was my co-worker’s nasty habit. It just didn’t go away. Then it changed.


Really, this. The symptom is called an olefactory hallucination, and can signal something serious. It could be something nasty, and haste might be a good thing. Better to be a little alarmist and have it turn out to be relatively innocuous, than the opposite.

Do you get migraines? Some people get scent auras, most of which are burning or smoke related. I had one once myself during a period-based when I was getting thrice daily migraines: it was a burnt butterscotch smell.

I have been a migraineur, but haven’t had one in months. I take Maxalt when I do get them. I guess this could be an asymptomatic migraine.


Could be a seizure, too.

Talk to your doc. Really.

Qadgop, MD - Thanks for your professional opinion. I will wait through the weekend and if it doesn’t subside I’ll call her office. Should I mention it when I go next year, if it does subside?