• Lynn Peters

Why Can I Smell Bonfires?

This is a question I have been asked a couple of times - usually just as the patient is about to leave the room following a treatment. "Hmm... so is this a new thing?" will be my first question.

The reason I ask this would be to rule out a serious neurological cause such as a brain tumour, neuroblastoma (cancer that may start in the olfactory nerve), stroke or head injury. Other neurological considerations would be Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's or epilepsy.

The medical term for this is Phantosmia and most phantom smells are not of serious origin and do go away with time.

When we smell, tiny molecules from the surface of the object evaporate and travel up the nose to specialised nerve cells (Olfactory sensory neurons). These neurons have receptors that send electrical signals to the brain which in turn identify the smell. We smell both through the nostrils and the throat to the back of the nasal cavity. When we chew, odour molecules are released which are pushed into the back of the nasal cavity by the tongue when we swallow.

There are a range of conditions that could result in phantosmia including nasal infection or polyps, dental problems, migraine, smoking and chemical exposure. It may be something do do with your sense of taste and not smell at all.

The important thing is that you should see your GP who will check there is nothing stuck in the nasal passage and then may refer you to an ear, nose and throat specialist for further tests.

Sometimes the phantosmia will gradually reduce over a few months with no treatment needed. Other times it is a sign of an illness that needs to be addressed.

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Oakingtons Osteopathic Clinic


1 Longstanton Road, Oakington (7.27 km)
CB24 3BB Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

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