Prescription Medication Use and Phantom Odor Perception Among US Adults

Chemosens Percept. 2020 Oct;13(2):152-158. doi: 10.1007/s12078-019-09276-6. Epub 2019 Dec 5.


Introduction: Prescription medication use may be associated with phantom odor perception. We evaluated associations between number of prescription medications and their therapeutic class and phantom odor perception among U.S. adults.

Methods: Data were collected between 2011-2014 as part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). A complex sampling design resulted in a nationally representative sample of 7,417 adults aged 40 years and older. During an in-home interview, participants were asked whether they had experienced an unpleasant, bad, or burning odor when nothing is there. Prescription medication use was assessed using validation with prescription bottles, when possible.

Results: Almost one quarter (23.3%) of adults uses ≥5 prescription medications. Use of five or more prescription medications is associated with 70% greater odds of phantom odor perception (OR 1.69 (1.09, 2.63)). Among adults 60 years and older, antidiabetic medications, antihyperlipidemic agents, and proton pump inhibitors are associated with 74-88% greater odds of report of phantom odor [OR=1.74 (1.09, 2.77), OR=1.85 (1.22. 2.80), and OR=1.88 (1.15, 3.07)], respectively.

Conclusions: Phantom odor perception may be a side effect of antidiabetic or antihyperlipidemic agents. Among people taking proton pump inhibitors, phantom odors may also be a consequence of gastric gas reflux.

Implications: Common prescription medications may be providing an olfactory stimulus.

Keywords: NHANES; epidemiology; medications; olfaction; phantom odors; smell.