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Ear, Nose, and Throat Disorders

Why do I smell bacon all day long?

09/09/2009

Question:

About 3 months ago I had a moderate cold which I treated with saline nasal spray and my usual zyrtec. Since the cold, I have regained some, but still have little sense of smell. For the past week, I smell "bacon" all day long, where ever i am. As long as I am awake, I smell bacon. I can taste chocolate and coffee but onions go unnoticed. What happened during my cold and how long can I expect to have diminished smell/taste?

Answer:

Sometimes the virus that causes the flu can cause a loss of smell that persists after the nasal congestion resolves.  This is due to the virus directly infecting the nerve endings high in the nose that enable us to smell.  This degeneration will sometimes cause a phantom odor, or an odor sensation that occurs without external odorant stimulation.  This phantom odor is often described as a burnt smell, or in your case, a bacon-like smell. 

Over time it is possible that the phantom odor will resolve, and your sense of smell improve.  This is dependent in part on how much of your smell you have actually lost.  Recovery can take several months to several years.  I suggest further evaluation by an otolaryngologist to rule out any other possible problems.   

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Response by:

Allen M Seiden, MD Allen M Seiden, MD
Professor of Otolaryngology, Director of Division of Rhinology and Sinus Disorders, Director of University Taste and Smell Center, Director of University Sinus and Allergy
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati