Can smelling something burning be a medical symptom?

Answer

According to NBC News, phantom smells, such as the smell of something burning, can be an indication of temporal lobe seizures, epilepsy, head trauma, dementia or a tumor, among many other brain-related disorders and problems. In some cases, brief periods of phantom smells can immediately precede the onset of a migraine headache. Olfactory hallucinations are typically considered problematic and require a trip to the doctor for evaluation.

According to NBC News, olfactory hallucinations are most commonly noxious odors that are rather unpleasant as opposed to sweet or desired smells. Phantosmia, or the act of smelling something that is not there, can also be linked to an infection in the area of brain that houses the processing of smell. In many cases, phantom smells have an undiagnosed source and continue for years at a time with no signs of infection, tumor or other brain disorder.

When a patient experiences a burning smell that is not present, tests such as MRIs, CT scans and EEGs are used to help diagnose the source of the problem, according to NBC News. It's often difficult to pinpoint the cause of the phantom smell; however, when a diagnosis is made, antidepressants, sedatives, saline drops and anti-epileptic medications are commonly used to treat the underlying condition causing the phantosmia.

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