Hallucinating Smells with Migraines
Blind spots. Zig zags. Flashes of light. Tingling or numbness. These are just some of the many symptoms people may experience prior to having a migraine. These sensory disturbances, known as aura, affect 30% of people with reoccurring migraines. Now scientists have another sensory disturbance to add to the list: olfactory hallucinations, or imagined smells.
In a recent study, researchers examined the records of 2,100 patients with migraines over the course of 30 months. They discovered that 0.7% of patients had olfactory hallucinations. The most common smells were burning or smoking odors like burnt popcorn, wood smoke, or cigar smoke. Second most common were smells of decomposition like sewage or garbage odors. These imaginary smells usually lasted 5-60 minutes and were typically followed by or occurred with the onset of a migraine headache.
Researchers pointed out that although this phenomenon is uncommon, it is distinctive. Furthermore, researchers noted that since an estimated 11% of the world population suffers from migraines, imagined smells with migraines could actually affect a large amount of people.
Coleman, Elisheva et al. “Olfactory hallucinations in primary headache disorders: Case series and literature review.” Cephalalgia 31.14 ( 2011): 1477-1489. Accessed October 18, 2011. doi: 10.1177/0333102411423315.