Phantosmia, the perception of an odor when there are no odorants in the environment, can be a very debilitating symptom. In the 1960s, Zilstorff reported olfactory distortions could be treated by the topical application of a cocaine solution to the olfactory epithelium. In evaluating this treatment, we observed no long-term benefit using cocaine on 6 patients with phantosmia. Based on our observations, the patient's olfactory ability was not a determining factor in the initiation or quality of their phantosmia. Following topical cocainization, we observed a remarkable delay of hours to days in the return of olfactory ability, and when cocaine was applied to only 1 nostril, there was a decreased olfactory ability on the noncocainized side. These results may suggest the possibility that phantosmia is related to a central processing problem.
Keywords: cocaine; nasal airflow; olfactory cleft; olfactory neuron; smell distortion.