Unfortunately, if you’ve been smelling metal when no metal is around, this could mean cancer.

In fact, the phantom odor that you’re smelling might be described as slightly metallic or like rust, a chemical or a kind of burning-type odor.

The common denominator is that the smell is unpleasant. This could mean a variety of medical issues including cancer.

Phantosmia is smelling something that is not there,” says Dr. Stacey Silvers, MD, of Madison ENT & Facial Plastic Surgery in NYC, who is board certified in otolaryngology; one of her specialties is sinus surgery.

“Metal, cigarettes, garbage. And dysosmia is distortion of smells (a banana smells like metal or smoke),” adds Dr. Silvers.

In an article at nbcnews.com, Dr. Alan Hirsch says that a phantom smell “could be a tumor – that’s on the top of your list of things to rule out – but it could also be a cyst or some infectious agent.”

Dr. Silvers says, “Tumors affecting the olfactory bulb are uncommon but can distort smell.”

The Experience of Phantom Smells

The odor can be just about anything that’s disagreeable, from rotting meat or cheese to fish, something burning or something chemical.

Phantosmia can come and go or be persistent. “Often the cause is idiopathic [never found] with no specific finding on exam or MRI,” says Dr. Silvers.

“A good physical exam is necessary and often an MRI.”

The condition can also be caused by inflamed sinuses, temporal lobe seizures, Parkinson’s disease and brain tumors, plus even an upper respiratory tract infection.

“Head trauma can affect the olfactory nerves and they can re-innervate improperly, affecting smell,” says Dr. Silvers.

Additional causes of smelling metal or something weird:

• Nasal polyps (these are not cancer)

• Migraine

• Stroke

If you’re smelling metal for no apparent reason, however, do not jump to the conclusion that you have brain cancer. But do get yourself checked out.

On a related note, Dr. Jordan S. Josephson, an ear, nose and throat physician, explains why you might be smelling cigarette smoke for no apparent reason.

An NYC expert in ear, nose and throat care, Dr. Silvers has been named among America’s Top Physicians and Surgeons in facial plastic surgery and otolaryngology numerous times since 2003.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer. 


Top image: ©Lorra Garrick

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