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.

Causes of phantosmia

Phantosmia is usually caused by an infection such as:

Less common causes include:

Cleaning inside your nose can help

Rinsing the inside of your nose with a salt water solution may help temporarily stop the strange smell.

You can make a salt water solution at home.

How to clean your nose with a salt water solution
  1. Boil a pint of water then leave it to cool.
  2. Mix a teaspoon of salt and a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda into the water.
  3. Wash your hands.
  4. Stand over a sink, cup the palm of one hand and pour a small amount of the solution into it.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

See a 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 depends 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.

Call 111

If you can’t speak to your GP or don’t know what to do next.

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