Smelling Cigarette Smoke (Phantosmia): What could it mean?

Posted by iceblue @iceblue, Dec 28, 2019

At some point in the past week or two I started smelling cigarette smoke where there definitely was none. Initially it was just a brief whiff while sitting in my easy chair and then it would be gone, but now I smell it everywhere. And it’s no longer just a brief whiff – it’s almost constant and to the point where it sometimes makes me feel nauseous.

I have recently increased the amount of Gabapentin I’m taking from 300 mg/day to 500 mg/day. Is it possible the increase in Gabapentin has anything to do with this?

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@veteranspouseinpain

I haven't lost my voice. But I have a lot of problems swallowing and the doctors don't know what to think of it. Like when I take my vitamins in the morning and I have them in my mouth with water, and for some reason it's like my throat is not when I swallow which also keeps me from eating sometimes. I can't wait to quit smoking

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It is really hard to quit smoking. I am grateful that our Province offers free quit smoking aids to anyone who wants them. The only limitation is that we can only be granted the regime (for free) once a year. I didn't quit until year 3. I tried the gum, inhalers – and then finally the patch. I quit (after 40 years) because I thought I had a health problem so was strongly motivated, but it was still really hard. Sending you positive energy to help get you through the quitting process.

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@iceblue– You bring up something very important, no matter how tough it is, keep trying until you succeed. !!!

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@veteranspouseinpain

I haven't lost my voice. But I have a lot of problems swallowing and the doctors don't know what to think of it. Like when I take my vitamins in the morning and I have them in my mouth with water, and for some reason it's like my throat is not when I swallow which also keeps me from eating sometimes. I can't wait to quit smoking

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Hello from England , iam so sorry to hear your suffering on top of the daily issues your already having to handle most of us would have given up by now, so don't focus on stress of giving up smoking if your Dr asked you to stop eating chocolate that would be hard enough, so take one tiny step at a time, ( my ddaughter has been through ruff time long story short her husband is disabled and has cancer too she has been sick from stress , here they have rest bite care where you get to have a break time for you just to recharge your precious batteries) might be able to get something like that where you are living and maybe even try drinking before having vitamins in morning lemon water with honey and ginger root might help settle your throat know it's helped me and my darling daughter, they have two precious children that get stressed by things , and my dearest precious beautiful friend are handling similar to you caring for her disabled husband she too has rest carers to support her she's no longer able to do everything herself ,. Seems to me you have enough to deal with walking your precious dog might help when you think about needing to smoke instead of… HUG from England kind regards swift * your so brave take little time to breathe…

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Update: The smell of smoke has stayed with me all this time (about 3 weeks), although began to reduce yesterday and has remained reduced today.

I saw my doctor today and described the smell, frequency of the smell, the headaches that felt like sinus headaches – and confirmed that I have NOT been congested. He conducted some in-office tests (e.g. follow my finger, tapped on various areas on my forehead and face), and concluded that the problem was almost certainly in my sinuses. He said the symptoms I described are not unusual as precursors to sinus infections, and suspects my immune system may have prevented an actual infection, but if I become congested to come back and he will give me antibiotics.

Yesterday I only smelled smoke for about 4(ish) hours rather than 14(ish), and the headaches have mostly subsided. I am hoping all symptoms will be completely gone within the week.

Oh! And while I had reduced the Gabapentin down to 300 mg – it did not seem to impact the smell, so I am back up at 400 mg/day.

Whew! This has been a trip I don't want to repeat!

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@iceblue
So, did your doctor say that this was going to be an ongoing problem or did s/he not make any kind of prediction.
Take care,
Jake

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@jakedduck1

@iceblue
So, did your doctor say that this was going to be an ongoing problem or did s/he not make any kind of prediction.
Take care,
Jake

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@jakedduck1 – I think we both assumed that because the amount of time I am smelling smoke has decreased over the past 2 days that it's on it's way to disappearing. Geez 😮 I hope it won't be an ongoing problem!

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@iceblue

@jakedduck1 – I think we both assumed that because the amount of time I am smelling smoke has decreased over the past 2 days that it's on it's way to disappearing. Geez 😮 I hope it won't be an ongoing problem!

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Hello, just wanted to chime in with my experience with phantom cigarette smoke. I'm a non-smoker.Smoked briefly 20+yrs ago. Started smelling very distinct cigarette smoke in July 2020 randomly in my 6mo old house that had never been smoked in. It started strong. After a week of constant smelling I made appt. with a very good ENT. He first suspected I had inhaled mold and had a sinus infection. Put me on antibiotic which did nothing.Next ordered a CT scan of sinus,which showed chronic sinusitis which he said was not relevant. Next was an MRI of the brain looking for a tumor,focusing on olfactory. This showed normal. He then suspected it might be an early sign of dementia / Alzheimers. He ordered a hearing test which show some loss that may be dementia related. By this time several months had passed and the smell slowly diminished and them went away completely. Then reappeared as strong as ever 3 days ago while sitting at home. The smell is now noticeable when I'm outside of my home,which wasn't the case before.I'm going to try to get an order for an MRI scan specifically for Alzheimers as I do have a very strong family history. I'm 54 yo male.

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@orloffjr

Hello, just wanted to chime in with my experience with phantom cigarette smoke. I'm a non-smoker.Smoked briefly 20+yrs ago. Started smelling very distinct cigarette smoke in July 2020 randomly in my 6mo old house that had never been smoked in. It started strong. After a week of constant smelling I made appt. with a very good ENT. He first suspected I had inhaled mold and had a sinus infection. Put me on antibiotic which did nothing.Next ordered a CT scan of sinus,which showed chronic sinusitis which he said was not relevant. Next was an MRI of the brain looking for a tumor,focusing on olfactory. This showed normal. He then suspected it might be an early sign of dementia / Alzheimers. He ordered a hearing test which show some loss that may be dementia related. By this time several months had passed and the smell slowly diminished and them went away completely. Then reappeared as strong as ever 3 days ago while sitting at home. The smell is now noticeable when I'm outside of my home,which wasn't the case before.I'm going to try to get an order for an MRI scan specifically for Alzheimers as I do have a very strong family history. I'm 54 yo male.

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@orloffjr, welcome to Mayo Clinic Connect. It sounds like you are doing a thorough investigation. I had understood that one possible cause of phantosmia is actually sinus infection or upper respiratory infection. So I'm surprised that the chronic sinusitis was declared not relevant. Did the antibiotics clear the sinus infection, but the phantom smell remained?

@iceblue, has your phantom smell disappeared?

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@orloffjr

Hello, just wanted to chime in with my experience with phantom cigarette smoke. I'm a non-smoker.Smoked briefly 20+yrs ago. Started smelling very distinct cigarette smoke in July 2020 randomly in my 6mo old house that had never been smoked in. It started strong. After a week of constant smelling I made appt. with a very good ENT. He first suspected I had inhaled mold and had a sinus infection. Put me on antibiotic which did nothing.Next ordered a CT scan of sinus,which showed chronic sinusitis which he said was not relevant. Next was an MRI of the brain looking for a tumor,focusing on olfactory. This showed normal. He then suspected it might be an early sign of dementia / Alzheimers. He ordered a hearing test which show some loss that may be dementia related. By this time several months had passed and the smell slowly diminished and them went away completely. Then reappeared as strong as ever 3 days ago while sitting at home. The smell is now noticeable when I'm outside of my home,which wasn't the case before.I'm going to try to get an order for an MRI scan specifically for Alzheimers as I do have a very strong family history. I'm 54 yo male.

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@orloffjr – I'd also like to welcome you to Mayo Clinic Connect. I'm also glad that you have taken control of trying to find out what is causing Phantom odor perception. I have had it. olfactory disturbance in which individuals perceive an odor in the absence of a stimulus. The cause of this condition is unknown. People with phantom odor perception may have a neural signaling imbalance that allows nonsense olfactory signals to reach the central nervous system. It's scary and definitely startling. I had migraines during that time and I remember riding in our car with the windows up. I had smoked but was no longer a smoker. I was also cooking a blockage in an artery.

I wish you luck in finding out what has caused yours. I never looked into mine. I hope that you let us know the results. What is your guess to the cause?

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@iceblue

Geesh – I had a reply all ready to go and Poof! It disappeared! OK – I'll try again 🙂

I have not read anywhere that Gabapentin (specifically) caused one to experience this, but I did read that some medications can cause it. I began to increase my dosage about a month ago, which kind of coincides with the appearance of the odor – so it seems reasonable to try to rule out the meds as a first step.

Initially I only smelled cigarette smoke once or twice a day and I thought it was my brain finding a new way to signal a craving. (I quit smoking in April.) But over the past few weeks the frequency has really ramped up. It's hard to guess, but I would say I now smell cigarettes between 50 and 100 times a day. Sometimes it's only during one inhale – sometimes it lasts longer – constant through many inhales. I've never really tried to time it.

I noticed some very small unusual movements when I first started taking the Gabapentin – like a tugging at the muscles in my upper arms/shoulders. It's nothing anyone else could have seen as it was ever so slight, but I was aware of it. I still experience them a bit but definitely less than in the beginning. However, since I'm taking meds that act on my brain, it didn't strike me as unusual. Other than that, I haven't noticed anything terribly unusual – although I will watch.

As for doing anything different – no. The pain in my feet came back with a vengeance when my brother died (Nov 15th), and despite increasing the Gabapentin I haven't been able to get that pain back under control. Other than that, it's been Christmas, which has been very quiet and peaceful for us this year, so it's all been good.

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I found this conversation after I typed in my URL “smell cigarette smoke”. What really caught my attention was seeing that you are also taking gabapentin! I have been taking it for about 20 months. I am now only taking half (600mg) what I was for the first year. But the cig smell started about three days ago and it is getting more often and stronger! Obviously no one else can smell a thing so it is just me. I too am a former smoker but it’s been 15 years or more! I have already had covid-19 and it took my sense of taste and smell but that was months ago and my senses returned slowly but surely. I just think it is so odd to have this hit out of the blue. And it is just so ODD to smell cigs!! Why not cotton candy or gardenias??

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@lesliec4c

I found this conversation after I typed in my URL “smell cigarette smoke”. What really caught my attention was seeing that you are also taking gabapentin! I have been taking it for about 20 months. I am now only taking half (600mg) what I was for the first year. But the cig smell started about three days ago and it is getting more often and stronger! Obviously no one else can smell a thing so it is just me. I too am a former smoker but it’s been 15 years or more! I have already had covid-19 and it took my sense of taste and smell but that was months ago and my senses returned slowly but surely. I just think it is so odd to have this hit out of the blue. And it is just so ODD to smell cigs!! Why not cotton candy or gardenias??

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@lesliec4c Cotton candy or gardenias would definitely be more appealing.

Welcome to Mayo Clinic Connect, a place to give and get support.

You are wanting to connect with members regarding a phantom cigarette smell you have recently started to experience.

Members like @merpreb @orloffjr @slynnb @palmorejs @jana15 @leslon have had the same experience of smelling cigarette smoke (Phantosmia) and have discussed this and how it relates to Gabapentin.

May I ask if you are still experiencing the smell of cigarette smoke and the frequency? Is it constant or does it come and go?

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For several months I have been smelling cigarette smoke when no one is smoking. It started out occasional and is almost constant now. I have also been seeing black things that look like maybe spiders or small animals out of the corner of my vision that are definitely not there. I have to assume the smelling is Phantosmia and for some reason I’m hallucinating at same time. Any ideas?

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