Scientists finally made a study to understand the symptoms and causes of the phantom smell phenomenon everyone gets at one point or another.
The team of researchers at the National Institutes of Health, there could be scientific evidence now to explain why we should ignore the nagging yet uncertain feeling that something smells.
Kathleen Bainbridge, Ph.D. at the Epidemiology and Biostatistics Program who works at the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (the NIDCD), led the study into the phantom smells. This term, as implied by the name, refers to scents an individual perceives as real but are actually not. The study showed that nearly 6.5 percent of Americans experience some form of this slight hallucination. This study involved over 7,000 test subjects, all over 40 years of age.
Even though the exact cause behind the phantom smell phenomenon– also known as phantosmia– is not known, researchers believe defining the parameters of what this sensation is, would be a good starting point for future research.
Bainbridge said that the condition could relate to overactive odor-sensing cells in the nose. That, or a part of the brain that malfunctions in understanding odor signals. A first step in learning about any medical condition is a specific description of the phenomenon. Once that is nailed down, other researchers could speculate where to look for possible causes. Ultimately, the goal is of course to find preventative measures and treatment for the condition.
The Phantom Smell Phenomenon And its Potential Factors
Most of the odors imagined by phantosmia are stinky. Because of this, researchers looked into an extensive range of potential factors. Some of those factors included gender, race, or even ethnicity along with the overall quality of health and socio-economic status. It’s interesting to note it was only bad smells that subjects detected incorrectly.
Research studies such as this one and those studies past are working towards narrowing down any possible causes and developing a clear picture of what contributing factors there are to the phantom smell. The most important aspect, however, is discovering any links to other medical conditions. In some studies, scientists evaluated whether or not there is a causal link between phantosmia and the beginning of a brain tumor.
Dr. Alan Hirsch, part of the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation, stresses the importance of not ignoring signs. He warns that phantom smells could allude to something serious. If this occurs, it needs evaluation, primarily as a possibility it warns of a tumor. It could also, however, be a cyst or an infectious agent in the area of the brain that processes smell.
The most challenging aspect for researchers is that smell is possibly the most elusive of the human senses to both define and study. Because of this, research can often put the cart before the horse. In other words, they provide too much analysis before a proper framework for understanding exists.
This problem could lead to a possibility of self-diagnosis for the general public. It could create an outcome that produces more questions instead of coming up with essential answers to understand the issue.