Smelling things that aren't there (phantosmia)
Smelling things that aren't there is called phantosmia. It can be unpleasant and affect how things taste. But it isn't usually serious and may go away by itself in a few weeks or months. See your GP if the strange smell doesn't go away in a few weeks.
Causes of phantosmia
Phantosmia is usually caused by an infection such as:
Less common causes include:
- growths in your nose (nasal polyps)
- mental health problems like depression
- a head injury
Cleaning inside your nose can help
Rinsing the inside of your nose with a salt water solution may help in the meantime to stop the strange smell.
You can make a salt water solution at home.
How to clean your nose with a salt water solution
- boil a pint of water then leave it to cool
- mix a teaspoon of salt and a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda into the water
- wash your hands
- stand over a sink, cup the palm of one hand and pour a small amount of the solution into it
- sniff some of the solution up one nostril at a time and let it run out of your nose- it might help to hold your other nostril closed with your finger as you sniff
- repeat these steps a few times to see if it helps
You don't need to use all of the solution. Make a fresh solution each day, don't re-use any left over from the day before.
Some pharmacies sell sachets you can use to make a salt water solution and devices to help you rinse your nose.
When to see your GP
You should see your GP if the strange smell doesn't go away in a few weeks.
Your GP may refer you to a hospital specialist for tests to find out the cause.
Treatment for phantosmia
Treatment for phantosmia will depend on the cause. Treating the cause of your phantosmia may help get rid of it.
Sometimes it might go away on its own, but it can be permanent.
More useful links
The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.
For further information see terms and conditions.