Prevalence and correlates of parosmia and phantosmia among smell disorders

Chem Senses. 2021 Jan 1;46:bjab046. doi: 10.1093/chemse/bjab046.


Among those many individuals who experience a reduced odor sensitivity (hyposmia/anosmia), some individuals also have disorders that lead to odor distortion, such as parosmia (i.e. distorted odor with a known source), or odor phantoms (i.e. odor sensation without an odor source). We surveyed a large population with at least one olfactory disorder (N = 2031) and found that odor distortions were common (46%), with respondents reporting either parosmia (19%), phantosmia (11%), or both (16%). In comparison to respondents with hyposmia or anosmia, respondents with parosmia were more likely to be female, young, and suffering from post-viral olfactory loss (P < 0.001), while respondents with phantosmia were more likely to be middle-aged (P < 0.01) and experiencing symptoms caused by head trauma (P < 0.01). In addition, parosmia, compared to phantosmia or anosmia/hyposmia, was most prevalent 3 months to a year after olfactory symptom onset (P < 0.001), which coincides with the timeline of physiological recovery. Finally, we observed that the frequency and duration of distortions negatively affects the quality of life, with parosmia showing a higher range of severity than phantosmia (P < 0.001). Previous research often grouped these distortions together, but our results show that they have distinct patterns of demographics, medical history, and loss in quality of life.

Keywords: anosmia; distortion; impairment; olfactory; smell.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Odorants
  • Olfaction Disorders* / epidemiology
  • Prevalence
  • Quality of Life*
  • Smell