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Do You Smell That?

Posted by on August 23rd, 2018

Child Smelling Flowers

“Child Smelling Flowers.” By Annie Spratt via Unsplash.com, May 14, 2018, CCO.

Have you ever been around someone who insists they smell an odor that you and others are unable to smell?  There’s a scientific name to describe this phenomenon:  phantom odor perception.

A new study from the National Institutes of Health determined nearly 1 in 15 Americans have phantom odor perception.  This conclusion was drawn after researchers examined over 7,000 participants who were all asked if they occasionally smelled an unpleasant odor.  Although a distortion in the sense of smell might not seem like a serious medical condition, smells can alert to danger such as smoke, gas leaks, or spoiled food.

Phantom odor perception is not the only potential explanation for a change in the ability to smell.  Other potential causes include:

  • A stuffy nose caused by the cold or flu
  • Allergies
  • Nasal polyps
  • Certain medications
  • Cancer treatments
  • Head injury

Judith A. Cooper, Ph.D., acting director of the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) said, “Problems with the sense of smell are often overlooked, despite their importance. They can have a big impact on appetite, food preferences, and the ability to smell danger signals such as fire, gas leaks, and spoiled food.”

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