Does an annoying pepper smell seem to be coming from inside your nose?

You’ve made sure there’s no pepper around; you haven’t eaten anything with pepper; and yet you often keep getting this odor of pepper coming from inside your nose. It happens even at the workplace, perhaps at the gym or outdoors.

You’ve concluded that there’s definitely something going on with your nose.

What you’re experiencing is called phantosmia.

“Phantosmia, or olfactory hallucination, is smelling something that isn’t in your environment,” says Inna Husain, MD, an ear, nose and throat specialist with Community Healthcare System of Indiana.

“One reported smell is that of pepper,” adds Dr. Husain.

There is no known reason why, for some people with phantosmia, the odor manifests as pepper rather than some other odor.

For others with an olfactory hallucination, the smell from inside their nose – or what even seems to be in the external environment – can be described as something burning, such as rubber, tobacco or toast.

The smell may also be metallic or stale – something that can’t quite be described.

Sometimes the odor is described as something more putrid such as rotting food or garbage.

But the type of description is not indicative of the reason behind the phantosmia.

Phantosmia is not a disease itself; it’s just a name for a symptom that can have numerous possible causes.

What causes phantosmia?

Dr. Husain explains, “This can be caused by a head injury or an upper respiratory tract infection.

“Aging, sinusitis, brain tumors, Parkinson’s disease can trigger this by damage to the olfactory nerve.”

If you’ve been smelling pepper from inside your nose, or just in general, with no explanation – you should be seen by an ear, nose and throat physician to rule out a serious cause.

Additional Possible Causes of a Pepper Smell in Your Nose

  • Side effects of a medication
  • Lingering effect of COVID-19 (long covid)
  • Nasal polyp
  • Allergies
  • Dental problems
  • Migraines
  • Seizure disorder

What undoubtedly snatched your attention on the list of possible causes is that of a brain tumor.

However, this is not a common cause of smelling something that isn’t there.

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Dr. Husain is an otolaryngologist affiliated with Community Hospital, Munster, IN, Community Stroke and Rehabilitation Center, Crown Point, IN, and St. Catherine Hospital, East Chicago, IN. She received her medical degree from Southwestern Medical School at Dallas. Follow her on Instagram and TikTok
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.