That Stinks? Phantom Odors Affecting Your Life?
Problems with the sense of smell are often overlooked, despite their importance.
Imagine the foul smell of an ash tray or burning hair. Now imagine if these kinds of smells were present in your life, but without a source.
A new study finds that 1 in 15 Americans (or 6.5 percent) over the age of 40 experiences phantom odors. The study, published in JAMA Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery examined the prevalence of and risk factors for phantom odor perception.
Phantom odor perception
It can have a big impact on appetite, food preferences, and the ability to smell danger signals such as fire, gas leaks, and spoiled food,” said Judith A. Cooper, Ph.D., acting director of the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, NIDCD.
Donald Leopold, M.D., one of the study’s authors adds that patients who perceive strong phantom odors often have a miserable quality of life, and sometimes cannot maintain a healthy weight.
Do you sometimes smell an unpleasant, bad, or burning odor when nothing is there?
The ability to identify odors tends to decrease with age. Phantom odor perception, on the other hand, seems to improve with age.
- Twice as many women as men reported phantom odors, female predominance was particularly striking for those under age 60.
- Other risk factors for the onset of phantom odors include head injury, dry mouth, poor overall health, and low socio-economic status.
- Lower socioeconomic status may phantom odors, either directly or because of medications needed to treat their health conditions.
The causes of phantom odor perception are not understood.
The condition could be related to overactive odor-sensing cells in the nasal cavity or perhaps a malfunction in the part of the brain that understands odor signals.
A good first step in understanding any medical condition is a clear description of the phenomenon.
National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD): NIDCD
National Institutes of Health (NIH): www.nih.gov.
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