Why do I smell pennies? Noticing an odd metallic scent when nothing is there? You may be experiencing phantosmia – the medical term for smelling odors that aren’t present. Smelling phantom smells like pennies, burnt toast, or rotten eggs can be alarming but is often harmless.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the common causes, when to see a doctor, and how to treat phantosmia.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Phantosmia is usually triggered by problems with your nose or brain. Common causes include upper respiratory infections, head injuries, temporal lobe seizures, brain tumors, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Phantosmia often goes away on its own but see a doctor if it persists or indicates a serious neurological disorder.

What is Phantosmia?

Phantosmia is a condition characterized by the perception of smells that aren’t present. It is a type of olfactory hallucination, where individuals experience odors that others around them cannot detect.

These phantom smells can range from pleasant scents like flowers or food to unpleasant odors such as burning rubber or rotting garbage.

Definition and Prevalence

Phantosmia is derived from the Greek words “phantasma” meaning “ghost” and “some” meaning “smell.” It is estimated that approximately 1 in 15 people experience phantosmia at some point in their lives. While the condition can affect individuals of any age, it is most commonly reported among older adults.

Phantosmia can be temporary or chronic, with episodes lasting from a few seconds to several minutes. In some cases, the phantom smells may persist for extended periods, causing significant distress and disruption to daily life.

Phantosmia vs. Parosmia

Phantosmia is often confused with another condition called parosmia, which is the distortion or alteration of the sense of smell. While both conditions involve olfactory hallucinations, there is a key difference between the two.

Phantosmia Parosmia
Perception of smells that aren’t present n smells that are distorted or different from their actual source
n be caused by various factors, including neurological conditions, head injuries, and certain medications often n a result of damage to the olfactory system, such as from viral infections or head trauma
Smells may be pleasant or unpleasant smells s are typically unpleasant and often described as foul or rancid

If you or someone you know is experiencing phantosmia or parosmia, it is important to consult a healthcare professional for a proper diagnosis and guidance on potential treatments. Understanding the underlying cause is crucial in determining the most effective approach to managing these conditions.

For more information on phantosmia and parosmia, you can visit Mayo Clinic or NHS.

Common Causes of Phantosmia

Phantosmia, or the perception of smells that aren’t present, can have several different causes. Understanding these causes can help individuals experiencing this phenomenon seek appropriate treatment. Here are some common causes of phantosmia:

Nasal and Sinus Problems

One of the most common causes of phantosmia is nasal and sinus problems. Conditions such as sinus infections, allergies, or nasal polyps can lead to an altered sense of smell. When the nasal passages are inflamed or blocked, odors can become distorted or even nonexistent.

This can result in the perception of unusual or unpleasant smells, including the well-known “smell of pennies.”

If you suspect that your phantosmia is related to nasal or sinus issues, it is important to consult with a healthcare professional. They can help diagnose and treat any underlying conditions that may be causing your symptoms.

Neurological Disorders

In some cases, phantosmia can be a symptom of neurological disorders. Conditions such as epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, or migraines can affect the olfactory system and lead to the perception of phantom smells.

The exact mechanisms behind this phenomenon are not fully understood, but it is believed to be related to abnormal activity in the brain.

If you have a known neurological disorder and are experiencing phantosmia, it is crucial to discuss your symptoms with your healthcare provider. They can help determine if any adjustments to your treatment plan are necessary.


Certain medications can also cause phantosmia as a side effect. These can include antibiotics, anticonvulsants, antidepressants, and antipsychotics. The mechanism by which these medications cause altered smell perception is not well understood, but it is thought to be related to their effects on the central nervous system.

If you are taking any medications and begin experiencing phantosmia, it is important to consult with your healthcare provider. They can evaluate your medication regimen and make any necessary adjustments to minimize or eliminate this side effect.

It is crucial to remember that the information provided here is for educational purposes only. If you are experiencing phantosmia, it is always recommended to consult with a healthcare professional for a proper diagnosis and personalized treatment plan.

When to See a Doctor About Phantosmia

If you are experiencing phantosmia, which is the perception of smells that aren’t present, it is important to understand when it is necessary to seek medical advice. While phantosmia can sometimes be a temporary and harmless occurrence, there are instances where it may indicate an underlying medical condition that requires attention.

Here are some situations in which it is advisable to see a doctor:

1. Persistent or Recurring Phantosmia:

If you are consistently experiencing phantom smells that persist over a prolonged period or if they keep recurring, it is recommended to consult a healthcare professional. Persistent phantosmia may be a symptom of an underlying condition that needs to be addressed.

2. Interference with Daily Life:

If the phantom smells are interfering with your daily activities, such as impacting your appetite, causing nausea, or affecting your ability to concentrate, it is important to seek medical advice. These symptoms could be indicative of a more serious underlying issue that needs attention.

3. Associated Symptoms:

If you notice any additional symptoms accompanying your phantosmia, such as headaches, dizziness, or vision changes, it is crucial to consult a doctor. These symptoms could be indicative of a neurological or sinus-related condition that requires medical intervention.

4. Gradual Onset or Worsening:

If the phantom smells gradually appear or if they have been getting worse over time, it is advisable to seek medical attention. This could be a sign of an underlying medical condition that needs to be diagnosed and treated.

5. Personal Concern or Anxiety:

If phantosmia is causing you personal concern, anxiety, or distress, it is important to discuss your symptoms with a healthcare professional. They can provide reassurance, guidance, and appropriate treatment options, if necessary.

Remember, it is always better to err on the side of caution when it comes to your health. If you are unsure whether or not to see a doctor about your phantosmia, it is recommended to reach out to a healthcare professional for further evaluation and guidance.

Diagnosing Phantosmia

Diagnosing phantosmia, or the perception of smelling odors that aren’t present, can be challenging since it is a subjective experience. However, there are several methods that healthcare professionals use to determine the underlying cause of this condition.

Medical History and Exam

During a medical history and examination, the doctor will ask detailed questions about the patient’s symptoms, their frequency, and any potential triggers. It is important to provide accurate and thorough information to help the doctor make an accurate diagnosis.

The doctor may also examine the patient’s nose and perform a physical examination to rule out any other possible causes of the phantom smells.

Imaging Tests

In some cases, imaging tests such as MRI or CT scans may be conducted to evaluate the nasal passages, sinuses, and brain. These tests can help identify any structural abnormalities or tumors that could be causing the phantosmia.

However, it’s important to note that not all cases of phantosmia require imaging tests, and they are typically reserved for cases where other potential causes need to be ruled out.

Smell Testing

Smell testing, also known as olfactory testing, may be performed to evaluate the patient’s sense of smell. This can help determine if the phantosmia is related to a specific smell disorder or olfactory dysfunction. The test involves smelling various substances and identifying them correctly.

If there are any abnormalities in the sense of smell, further investigations may be required to pinpoint the cause.

It’s important to note that diagnosing phantosmia can be complex, and multiple factors may contribute to the condition. Therefore, it’s crucial to consult with a healthcare professional who specializes in ear, nose, and throat disorders or a neurologist who can provide an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment plan.

Treating Phantosmia

Why Do I Smell Pennies?

Phantosmia, the condition in which individuals perceive smells that are not present, can be distressing and disruptive to daily life. Fortunately, there are treatment options available to help manage this condition.

Two common approaches to treating phantosmia include addressing underlying causes and smell retraining therapy.

Treating Underlying Causes

One way to treat phantosmia is by identifying and addressing any underlying causes that may be contributing to the condition. Phantosmia can be triggered by various factors such as sinus infections, nasal polyps, head injuries, or even certain medications.

By addressing and treating these underlying causes, it may be possible to alleviate or reduce the symptoms of phantosmia.

In some cases, individuals may need to consult with a healthcare professional, such as an otolaryngologist or a neurologist, to identify the root cause of their phantosmia. Diagnostic tests, such as imaging scans or blood tests, may be conducted to help pinpoint any underlying medical conditions that could be contributing to the olfactory hallucinations.

Once the underlying cause has been identified, appropriate treatment measures can be implemented. This may involve medication, surgical intervention, or lifestyle changes. It is important to work closely with a healthcare professional to determine the most effective course of action based on an individual’s specific circumstances.

Smell Retraining Therapy

Smell retraining therapy is another approach that has shown promise in helping individuals with phantosmia. This therapy involves exposing individuals to a variety of pleasant and familiar smells over some time to help retrain and recalibrate the olfactory system.

During smell retraining therapy, individuals are encouraged to sniff various scents, such as essential oils or common household items, multiple times a day. This repetitive exposure aims to stimulate the olfactory receptors and help the brain differentiate between real and phantom smells.

While smell retraining therapy may not provide an immediate solution, studies have shown that it can be effective in reducing the intensity and frequency of phantosmia symptoms over time. It requires patience and consistency, as results may take several months to become noticeable.

It is important to note that the effectiveness of treatment options may vary from person to person. Therefore, it is crucial to consult with a healthcare professional to determine the most appropriate treatment plan for managing phantosmia.

Coping Tips for Phantosmia

Dealing with phantosmia, the condition where one smells odors that are not present can be challenging and disruptive to daily life. While there may not be a definitive cure for phantosmia, there are several coping strategies that can help individuals manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life.

1. Seek Medical Advice

If you are experiencing phantosmia, it is important to consult with a healthcare professional. They can help determine the underlying cause of your condition and recommend appropriate treatments or therapies.

In some cases, phantosmia may be a symptom of an underlying medical condition that requires specific treatment.

2. Practice Good Self-Care

Engaging in self-care activities can help alleviate the distress caused by phantosmia. This can include getting enough sleep, eating a balanced diet, and staying hydrated. Taking care of your overall well-being can have a positive impact on your symptoms.

3. Manage Stress

Stress can exacerbate symptoms of phantosmia, so finding effective stress management techniques is crucial. This can involve engaging in relaxation exercises such as deep breathing, practicing mindfulness or meditation, or participating in activities that bring joy and relaxation.

Finding healthy outlets for stress can help reduce the frequency and intensity of phantom smells.

4. Avoid Triggers

Identifying and avoiding triggers that worsen your symptoms can help manage phantosmia. These triggers may vary from person to person but can include certain foods, strong odors, or environmental factors.

Keeping a journal to track your symptoms and potential triggers can be a useful tool in identifying patterns and making necessary adjustments to your daily routine.

5. Support Groups

Connecting with others who also experience phantosmia can provide a sense of understanding and support. Joining a support group or online community can allow you to share experiences, and coping strategies, and seek advice from others who are going through similar challenges.

The reassurance and empathy from others can be invaluable in coping with phantosmia.

6. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a form of therapy that focuses on changing negative thought patterns and behaviors. It can be beneficial in helping individuals with phantosmia manage their symptoms by providing coping mechanisms and techniques to reframe their perception of phantom smells.

Consulting with a qualified therapist who specializes in CBT can provide valuable guidance and support.

Remember, it’s essential to work closely with a healthcare professional to determine the best coping strategies for your specific situation. With time and proper management, it is possible to minimize the impact of phantosmia on your daily life.

Why Do I Smell Pennies – Conclusion

In summary, phantosmia, or smelling odors that are not present is relatively common and usually temporary. Causes range from benign to serious. See a doctor right away if you experience phantom smells like pennies along with other neurological symptoms.

With treatment of underlying causes and smell retraining therapy, most people find relief. Focus on coping strategies until your sense of smell returns to normal.

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