According to a study, researchers examine phantom odor perception in middle-aged and older individuals is associated with poor health, persistent dry mouth, and head injury. The study was published online Aug. 16 in JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery.

Researchers studied data for 7,417 U.S. adults aged 40 years and older. The authors sought to estimate the prevalence of phantom odor, defined as the perception of an unpleasant, bad, or burning odor when no actual odor exists, and to identify factors associated with this condition.

Phantom Odor Perception

The researchers found that phantom odor perception occurred in 6.5% of study participants. The prevalence of phantom odor perception varied by age and gender. Women aged 60 years and older reported phantom odors less commonly than younger women.

The prevalence of phantom odor perception among men varied from 2.5% for men 70 years and older to 5.3% for men aged 60 to 69 years. Factors associated with phantom odor perception included persistent dry mouth (odds ratio, 3.03) and history of head injury (odds ratio, 1.74).

Medication

Associations of phantom odor perception with poorer health and persistent dry mouth point to medication use as a potential explanation. Prevention of serious head injuries could have the added benefit of reducing phantom odor perception.

An age-related decline in the prevalence of phantom odor perception is observed in women but not in men. Only 11% (n = 64) of people who report phantom odor perception have discussed a taste or smell problem with a clinician.

Associations of phantom odor perception with poorer health and persistent dry mouth point to medication use as a potential explanation. Prevention of serious head injuries could have the added benefit of reducing phantom odor perception.