The Truth About Phantom Smells

By Jennifer


One of the migraine symptoms that my husband and I are able to find humor in is my ability to smell the strangest things before a migraine.

The medical term for phantom smells is “olfactory hallucinations.” Basically, this means that I smell things that are not there due to a change in brain chemistry. It sounds strange, and is rare for the general population, but slightly more common for migraineurs to experience.

This symptom is part of the prodrome or aura phase of a migraine (the phase before the migraine actually begins). If you are able to recognize these smells, they can be a helpful warning sign for the looming migraine.

My most common smell is fresh baked blueberry muffins. No matter where I was… I would smell blueberry muffins before my migraine episodes hit me. Honestly, it was kind of funny in the beginning until I realized it was tied to my migraines.

The other night, I experienced a different smell that wasn’t nearly as delightful as blueberry muffins. I smelled smelly feet! No matter where I moved around… smelly feet were there! I even made my husband move a hamper… just in case it was actually real.

So, whether it is something as pleasant as blueberry muffins or as displeasing as smelly feet, these “smells” seem very real. Then the smells wither away, turning into the familiar torturous pain and sickness of migraine.

According to an NCBI publication on Olfactory Hallucinations and Migraine, “Olfactory hallucinations have rarely been reported in migraine patients. Unlike visual, sensory, language, brainstem, and motor symptoms, they are not recognized as a form of aura by the International Classification of Headache Disorders.” This study followed 39 patients for 30 months and olfactory hallucinations occurred only 0.66% of the time.

It is also rare to smell pleasant things as most people smell a chemical or a burning odor and some even report smelling decomposition smells like rotting meat. So, I guess I should be incredibly thankful for blueberry muffin smells billowing through my house!



5 thoughts on “The Truth About Phantom Smells

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s