Home HealthTopics Health Centers Reference Library Research
Join us on Facebook Join us on Facebook Share on Facebook

Ear, Nose, and Throat Disorders

Smelling Something Burning

08/09/1999

Question:

Am strongly smelling something burning now and then...where there is nothing. What is causing this?

Answer:

What you describe is referred to as a phantosmia, i.e. a disorderd smell perception when there is no external stimulus. Most often we see this when someone has lost some of their sense of smell, particularly after a viral infection. Therefore, it would be helpful to know if you have noticed a diminution in your sense of smell.

Alternatively, it is sometimes possible to have a bad odor in the nose related to an underlying sinus infection. In other words, the infection can cause a bad odor, although this is not typically described as a burnt smell.

I would suggest that if this bad smell persists, you should consider having a more formal medical evaluation, and this would include an objective measurement of olfactory sensitivity.

For more information:

Go to the Ear, Nose, and Throat Disorders health topic, where you can:

Response by:

Allen M Seiden, MD Allen M Seiden, MD
Professor of Otolaryngology, Director of Division of Rhinology and Sinus Disorders, Director of University Taste and Smell Center, Director of University Sinus and Allergy
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati