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Ear, Nose, and Throat Disorders

Smelling Something Burning



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


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.

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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