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Ghost Smell: Why we perceive odors that no one else feel

You walk along the street past some place, and suddenly you smell something that simply cannot be near you. If you share your feelings with someone next to you, most likely he or she will not feel it. Or in another situation, you can be at home and notice an unusual aroma, not knowing where it comes from.

Do not worry, you do not invent anything. This phenomenon is called a ghostly smell, scientists who have studied this phenomenon call it phantosmia. This can happen in a variety of situations and in most cases is completely normal.

Ghostly smells really exist

 One of the world’s leading journals in otolaryngology published the results of a study by scientists from various American universities and institutes that explain that the perception of phantom odors is a real phenomenon, and that although it is not widespread, there is a certain percentage of people who experience it in everyday life.

 Study progress

The team that coordinated these studies, led by Dr. Kathleen Bainbridge of the National Health and Human Services Program (NIDCD) for Epidemiology and Biostatistics, analyzed the habits, lifestyles, and health data of more than 7,000 people over 40 years old collected since 2011 to 2014. Of those whose data were analyzed, 534, or 6.5%, replied that they could smell which, apparently, did not have a real source. Such odors are usually characterized as unpleasant, smelly or spicy


The results show that the reasons for perceiving a phantom odor may differ from person to person, but may be associated with an excessively developed sense of smell or a malfunction in the part of the brain responsible for detecting odors. However, after the study, some factors became clearer.

For example: This is more common in women. But the older they are, the less likely they are to notice these ghostly aromas. Perception of smell can be associated with head injuries and dry mouth. People with low socioeconomic status are more likely to present this phenomenon when exposed to a number of environmental pollutants.

The most common odors In the course of the tests, it was found that the most common phantom odors detected by the people participating in the study were smoke or the smell of a fire. This can be a real problem, as it may be difficult for some affected people to recognize when a real fire situation occurred or when it was simply their misconception. Olfactory hallucinations are more common than you think.

 The data published by the studies allow us to pave the way for future studies that may find a more accurate reason for their occurrence. Nevertheless, scientists note that before talking about phantosmia, you need to make sure that this person does not have violations in the temporal lobe, inflammation of the paranasal sinuses, brain tumors or early Parkinson’s disease.

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