Explaining Migraine Phantom Smells and Olfactory Hallucinations

Migraine Phantom Smells and Olfactory Hallucinations

Migraine phantom smell and olfactory hallucinations are both sensory disturbances associated with migraine. They occur at different stages of a migraine attack and have distinct characteristics.

To begin with, let’s look at the Phases of Migraine, created by Miles for Migraine. Migraine Phantom Smells and Olfactory Hallucinations happen in the prodrome and aura phase. Below, I will discuss the differences.

Phases of a migraine attack

Migraine Phantom Smell Prodrome

The prodrome phase is an early stage that can precede the onset of the acute attack phase. It serves as a warning sign, indicating that a migraine attack is likely to occur in the near future.

Phantom Smells

During the prodrome phase, some individuals may experience phantom smells or olfactory sensations. These are typically unusual or unpleasant odors that are not actually present in the environment. The prodrome phase can last for hours or even days leading up to the onset of the attack phase. Not everyone who experiences migraine attacks will have a prodrome, and among those who do, not all will experience olfactory sensations.

When it comes to migraine, smell is one of the strangest symptoms I get. Last weekend, I went shopping. When I went to check out, I was overcome by the smell of gas.  I cautiously asked if anyone else smelled gas. I didn’t want to induce chaos from people fleeing the store from a gas leak, but no one else smelled it.  No one?  How weird!  So when I got home and was changing I smelled it again.  I then knew it was me and not a store in danger, lucky them. I learned phantom smells are a symptom and sign that a migraine attack is rising for me.

Can Migraine Cause Phantom Smell?

In fact, I was the one in danger.  I am sensitive to smells, sound, and light as someone living with migraine. I have always known that smells are a trigger but never realized that my migraine smells are a symptom also. Even with experience and visual migraine aura, I have never thought about the phantom smells. I see dots and zig zags prior to a migraine attack. Smelling gas is a new migraine symptom realization for me.

The next day, I was hit with a migraine attack. Every day I learn something new about myself and my migraine disease.  While spreading the word about migraine, I look at myself totally differently.  I used to think I was a girl with a weak immune system who never felt well because of it.  In reality, a lot, if not all, that I experience has to do with my migraine disease.  It’s either symptoms, triggers,  side effects from meds, or pre and post-migraine damage.  It’s a life full of lessons and a roller coaster of feelings.

Olfactory Hallucinations

Olfactory hallucinations, also known as olfactory auras, are sensory disturbances that occur during a migraine attack. They involve alterations in the perception of smell. The aura phase may include olfactory hallucinations with perceiving odors that are not actually present in the environment. These smells can be unusual or unpleasant. Olfactory hallucinations typically last for a few minutes, but they can persist for up to an hour in some cases. Among those who experience migraine with aura, olfactory auras are less common compared to visual disturbances.

Migraine Phantom Smells vs. Olfactory Hallucinations

Prodrome: Migraine phantom smells occur typically in the prodrome phrase. This occurs before the onset of the acute phase, serving as a warning sign. It can last for hours or days leading up to the attack. Not always associated with aura; it can occur independently. Not everyone who experiences migraine will have a prodrome, and not all prodromes involve olfactory sensations.

Olfactory Hallucinations: Occur as part of the aura phase, which can precede or overlap with the acute phase. Part of the aura phenomenon can involve various sensory disturbances. Typically lasts for a few minutes, but can persist for up to an hour. Less common compared to visual disturbances among those who experience migraine with auras.

Do you Experience Migraine Phantom Smells or Olfactory Hallucinations?

It’s important to note that individual experiences with migraines can vary, and not everyone will experience all phases or symptoms. If you or someone you know is experiencing migraine attacks or related symptoms, it’s advisable to seek professional medical advice for proper evaluation and management.

At least I can say I’m learning.   Another day, another migraine attack.  Do you smell that?

Migraine Phantom Smells and Olfactory Hallucinations

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Sarah Rathsack

Sarah tells stories of My Migraine Life. Living life through Migraine consists of advocacy, treatment, prevention, and searching for health and happiness in a positive honest way. Her kids, husband, dog, family and friends motivate her to make a difference in the Migraine World.

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  1. Ann Manly on September 23, 2014 at 7:44 pm

    Thank you for all your insights! It is nice to know there are others who struggle and cope with this disease. I too am triggered by scents as well as many other things. I try and keep reading everything I can to educate myself about different ways to function as well as possible! Chronic migraines are a frustrating and painful way to live! God bless you!

  2. Michael Fernandez on September 23, 2014 at 6:48 pm

    Oh I feel for you I have scary auditory hallucinations now as if people are talking to me as well as ghost scents like what you experienced. Along with light sensitivity and a hatred of all strong scents I certainly feel for you and can relate to this article. Short and sweet well written, we all appreciate your story the more people that get their migraine story out there the more successful we can be!

  3. sandys5 on September 27, 2014 at 5:24 pm

    I can totally relate to your post. I smell a dirty ashtray or dirty socks when I have a migraine coming on. My problem is, I start looking around for the source of the problem thinking that perhaps it is lurking around and I can take care of the problem before it dawns on me that it is my trigger again. My husband sometimes has to remind me – lol. I have a daily chronic headache and have had it for over 14 years and get migraines throughout the month. We are just unique individuals 🙂

  4. k2k9dogs on September 29, 2014 at 2:53 pm

    Was standing in line at the Dunkin’ Donuts yesterday (something I rarely do, as I have no patience… but I had promised the hubs some doughnuts for Sunday breakfast!). Anyway, a woman walked in REEKING of perfume. Seriously, on a Sunday morning, at like 8:30 a.m. Really? I was so overcome, I got an instant headache and almost had to leave. Instead, I put my sleeve up across my face and stood there like that — with my arm across my face, breathing into my sleeve, until I got “used to the smell”. Sigh.

  5. teabird on October 4, 2014 at 3:57 pm

    I’ve spent a lot of time reality-testing those olfactory hallucinations, and part of my aura is also smelling things that *are* there as if they were jackhammers. Migraine is … fascinating …

  6. Christina Fulton on October 10, 2014 at 2:38 pm

    Yes! This resonates with me. I smell things that are not there and things that are there. I keep peppermint oil with me at all times. When a strong scent begins to bother me, I can put a little peppermint oil on my hand and hold it under my nose. It helps to cancel out perfume type smells really well and can often prevent a migraine.

  7. Mara Migraineur on October 14, 2014 at 6:13 am

    I like to refer to these as my superpowers. 🙂 (photophobia, phonophobia, and the smellophobia that I can’t remember the name for right now – damn brain fog).

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