How Common Among U.S. Adults is the Perception of a Phantom Odor?

Bottom Line: The perception of phantom odors is a condition in which individuals think they smell odors that don’t actually exist. Anecdotal reports suggest it can be a debilitating condition, with the odors often described as foul, rotten or chemical. A new observational study estimates 6.5 percent of U.S. adults 40 and older perceive phantom smells. The study included about 7,400 adults who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Prevalence was greater among women than men and among younger age groups. Only 11 percent of those affected had discussed a smell or taste problem with a clinician, which suggests increased awareness of the condition may help people seeking help or treatment.

Authors: Kathleen E. Bainbridge, Ph.D., M.P.H., National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland, and coauthors.

Related material: The commentary, “Prevalence and Risk Factors for Olfactory Hallucinations The Phantom Menace,” by David W. Hsu, M.D., Jeffrey D. Suh, M.D., University of California, Los Angeles School of Medicine, is also available on the For The Media website.

To Learn More: The full study is available on the For The Media website.