It can easily be said that during my Migraine Attacks that my sense of smells is heightened. I smell things that no human should be able to smell. Basically, my nose is better than a coon dog on a great hunt! But what happens when there is no signs of migraine and the things you are smelling are not there? Well, that is a whole different thing entirely. Welcome to the world of Phantosmia!
What is Phantosmia?
In basic terms, Phantosmia means smelling things that are not there. It is also called an olfactory hallucination or phantom smells. Phantosmia is considered to be part of the Aura phase of a Migraine, the phase that precedes the headache phase.
Most people report that the smells are unpleasant things such as cigarette smoke, rotten garbage, rotten meat or burning tires. In one of my past articles, I wrote about my phantom smell of blueberry muffins. It is actually rare to smell pleasant things during Phantosmia so I feel grateful!
What is Phantosmia like?
Have you ever caught a whiff of something and couldn’t figure out what it was or where it was coming from? Did you take out the trash, clean out the refrigerator and deep clean the kitchen to make it go away? Have you ever smelled smoke and thought that there could be a fire in your home? Did you run around looking for signs of the fire so you could keep your family safe? If so, that is exactly what Phantosmia is like.
These olfactory hallucinations can absolutely drive you crazy! Even my pleasant smells of blueberry muffins can be maddening after smelling it for hours. I personally cannot imagine smelling rotten garbage for hours on end and many people that do have unpleasant smells will also have nausea as well.
Is Phantosmia a Warning Sign of Migraine?
In my case, it is absolutely a warning sign. I can honestly say that I have never had an episode of phantosmia without having a Migraine. The thing that I have noticed is that the longer the smells last is indicative of how severe the Migraine attack will be.
Just the other day, I was awakened with this amazing smell of blueberry muffins. I knew that I was the only person in the house so before I even opened my eyes, I recognized that today might not be that great. I smelled this scent for over 4 hours before the headache phase began. That migraine was an excruciating 8-9 on a pain scale, lasted for hours and kept me in bed for 2 days.
Research is Lacking
In doing research for this article, I found that not a lot of research has been done on this phenomenon as it relates to Migraine. In fact, it is not officially recognized by the International Headache Society as part of the Migraine Prodrome or Aura Phases. This article on Migraine.com explains this issue and discusses some cases of Olfactory Hallucinations and Migraine.
What I will say is that I talk to plenty of Migraine Warriors that disagree with this completely. Because there are many things that still unknown about Migraine and the research is ongoing, I am going to side with the people that are living with this debilitating illness, including myself.
More Migraine Explained Topics:
- Migraine Explained: Cognitive Dysfunction
- Migraine Explained: Migraine Triggers
- Migraine Explained: Season Change
- Migraine Explained: Allodynia
- Migraine Explained: Status Migrainosus