What Is Parosmia? Its Causes, Symptoms And Treatment

Parosmia is a smell disorder. In this disorder the part of brain that recognizes sense of smell is not able to perceive the odor of substances. In fact the odor of a substance is perceived as something offensive by the olfactory lobe of the brain which in reality is not present. Thus, in parosmic patients even the natural pleasant odor of a substance is perceived to be offensive and foul. Many patients recognize the natural odor similar to fecal odor, chemical, burning, or rotten.

People suffering from parosmia are distressed in their day to day life as they are not able to distinguish between aromas of different food products.

Upper respiratory tract infection, traumatic head injury, parkinson’s disease, sinusitis are some of the causes of parosmia. There is no specific treatment of parosmia, but after few days or weeks problem decreases on its own.

Symptoms Of Parosmia

Patient suffering from parosmia is unable to identify the correct smell of a substance. As a result he finds trouble eating food as he is not able to differentiate between food flavors. Even pleasant flavor of food smells foul and altered.

Persistent foul smell is the most frequent complain of patient suffering from parosmia. The smell makes him sick.

For him the smell of any substance is perceived to be similar to fecal odor or that of a rotten flesh. For example patient perceives smell of an orange as unpleasant and burning.

What Are The Causes Of Parosmia?

The inside of nose is lined with olfactory sensory neurons (OSN). These are specialized cells in the lining of mucus membrane of the nose. These cells are receptor cells that receive particular smell in the air and relay the sensation to the center of brain called olfactory lobe. Here the smell perceived by the ONS is evaluated.

However, when olfactory sensory neurons in the nose are damaged it signals the brain of distorted smell that is not a natural odor in reality. It leads to a disorder called parosmia. Here are some important causes of parosmia.

  • Parosmia is frequently associated with upper respiratory tract infection. Patients with chronic rhinitis, sinusitis, sore throat, bronchitis are known to suffer from parosmia as their sense of smell is distorted due to damage to the OSN.
  • Injury to head, especially to the olfactory bulb in the brain which is responsible for differentiating various smells. Damage to olfactory center in the brain results in conditions such as parosmia.
  • Chronic smokers are known to suffer from parosmia. Smoking is known to cause sinusitis and various other respiratory tract illnesses. It damages the sensory cells in nose that are responsible for transmission of odor to the brain.
  • Smoke of harmful chemicals and acids is also detrimental for sensory cells in nose. Once damaged it can lead to distorted smell.
  • Medication, particularly long term use of antibiotics is responsible for impairment is ability to smell.
  • Neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer disease, and seizures can damage the area of brain that processes and evaluates sense of smell.

Treatment For Parosmia

There is no specific cure available for parosmia. Fortunately the symptoms lessen over a period of time. In some patients it may take years to decrease. A drug levo dopamine is used by some health care practitioners, but there is no sure evidence of its success.

Some patients who are frustrated with the problem which has been since many years often opt in destroying the olfactory bulb with surgery.


  1. Liz said:

    Months ago, I was hospitalised with asthma and severe chest infection. I was two weeks with an oxygen tube in my nose. Since then I have had recurrent chest infections and prescribed steroids and antibiotics concurrently for six weeks. I have lost some sense of smell but now fruit, perfume and things I loved the smell of have become repugnant to the stage where I have actually been physically sick. Is there any treatment for this problem?

    January 17, 2017
  2. Mathew said:

    I had a brain tumor removal surgery through my nose that damaged my olfactory nerve. I lost my smelling sense for like two months after the surgery, then I started to smell burning stuff, any odor around me smells like burned stuff (food, flowers, perfumes). It has been six months since the surgery was done and I am wondering if this problem can be cured?

    January 22, 2017
    • Amy said:

      I have had the same thing happen with a concussion in October. My ENT doctor said that the nerves behind the nose are damaged and need time to regenerate and heal. They are confused right now. His estimate is six months from the injury. But it could be longer before I should recover most of my smell.

      January 26, 2017
      • Chris said:

        I have had this after a traumatic brain injury. Although I am lucky to be alive, I smell this putrid smell constantly. Everything smells of it all the time. I can barely eat and it has been 18 months and it seems to be getting worse. I cannot find a doctor in Canada that knows how to treat this terrible disorder. I wish you well.

        June 6, 2017
  3. Pam said:

    I have suffering with this problem now for about last 3 years after a severe cold. Sometimes I can smell things initially like orange but then when I immediately put the orange under my nose I smell nothing. The worst thing is the taste of cottage cheese which I always liked to eat and now it has a metallic taste and I can no longer eat it. Losing taste is one of the worst things.

    March 26, 2017
    • Demarco said:

      The same thing happened to me about seven years ago. I had a severe cold and when the cold finally went away I couldn’t smell anything the same. Outside fresh air smells like a wet dog to me now. I don’t drink soda because it taste like windex. It has been so long, I miss my smell.

      September 13, 2017
  4. Kim said:

    I am into 2 years of parosmia due to upper respiratory infection. It has gotten a little better, but not a lot. It causes me a lot of depression and weight loss. Every day is a struggle because you never know what you’ll get. I have almost given up hope that I will ever be “normal” again. I hope that I am wrong.

    April 13, 2017
  5. Harvey said:

    Like many other suffers, loss of my sense of smell followed a terrible cold that lasted more than three weeks. Soon thereafter I noticed that I could not smell anything at all. After sometime I began smelling a “burnt cloth” smell more or less constantly. It has been six months and my sense of smell has not returned to normal. Recently, upon the advice of my doctor, I purchased a “neti pot” and have begun flushing out my nose daily with a sterile saline solution. The smell still persists, but it has lessened in intensity. She says that it may take a year or more for my sense of smell to return to normal, or it may never return.

    July 6, 2017
  6. Gloria said:

    I have the same problem, I had a bad bronchitis and I was sick for more than 6 weeks. During that time I lost my sense of smell and taste and now after that I can smell some chemicals and all my nice fragrances and perfumes smell horrible. My shampoo, soaps and everything that is supposed to have a nice scent, is is disgusting to me.

    It is now two months since I got my health back but my since of smell and taste are all ruined. This is so frustrating and I hope it doesn’t endure for long. I have read somewhere that using saline solution, nasal esteroides and smelling strong smelling items try to stimulate the nerves inside our nose. Does it really help?

    September 22, 2017
  7. Deb said:

    I had bronchitis five months ago and my smell and taste have been off since. Coffee smells terrible and nail polish has the same smell and makes me nauseous. Often all I smell is cigarette smoke and I am not around it at all. I used so much bleach once that my eyes were burning but I couldn’t smell it. Going to an ENT this week but not feeling too optimistic.

    September 23, 2017
  8. Cliff said:

    I am 62 years old now and around 3 years ago I had a container of acetone blow up in my face while I was spray painting. Some of it definitely went up my nostrils. The thing about losing your sense of smell as you don’t know that it is actually gone until you are with someone who can smell something that you can’t. I noticed this condition get worse over a period of several months. Fortunately it has had no effect on my sense of taste so I am still able to enjoy food.

    Sometimes this background smell gets so bad that I could almost cry because it is just terrible. I will be trying the nasal flush as mentioned in the TV program and the smell training with sample pots if I can get some. But good luck to the rest of you too. I know how distressing it is. I have also head of the condition being described as phantosmia – that is “phantom smells.” I had a brain scan a few months ago which revealed nothing to be the potential cause. I also had a septoplasty and turbinectomy to straighten out the cartilage in my nose 40 years ago and it is reported that the surgeon at the time was a little overzealous in his removal of the smell receptors at the back of my nose.

    November 11, 2017
  9. Susan said:

    I keep getting sinus problems which normally end up with a sore throat resulting in Bronchitis. I have sinus drip at the present time but I keep getting a strong smell of cigarettes in my nostril but no one is smoking as far as I can see. Any ideas what this can be?

    November 17, 2017
  10. Jeanet said:

    I have been suffering with Parosmia for at least 8 months I cannot tell what started it but at first I thought I had something on my hand which I had wiped under my nose. I have had an MRI but no reason to explain the change in smell. Sometimes it is a constant smell that I cannot describe. The worse smell comes with cooking food and particularly anything with any kind of fat. The smell is disgusting, it is the same smell I get when I go to the loo. It is depressing. The ENT doctor has given me some Uniphillin to take. Has anyone else tried this?

    November 21, 2017

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