Help! I Have A Burning Smell in Nose

It can be difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of a burning smell in nose. That’s because the potential causes are many.

One possible explanation for this symptom is sinus congestion. A lot of people suffer from this, so you shouldn’t rule it out.

People with sinus problems sometimes smell things that aren’t there, too. Generally, if the symptom is chronic, you’ll want to see a doctor to rule out something serious.

They’ll perform a thorough exam to rule out tumors or seizure disorders.

Is a Burning Smell in Nose an Emergency?

Honestly, there’s no way to know unless you speak with a doctor.

For instance, some patients who have had (or are having) strokes will experience “Phantom Smells”. They may also experience a burning sensation in nose, too.

Patients with dementia might also experience this symptom. If you’re young and healthy, it’s not a likely cause.

However, you should still rule it out with your doctor. Some doctors suggest that a phantom smell could be a sign of a brain tumor.

Even infections and cysts in the area of the brain that processes smell can cause this. The temporal lobe is the area of the brain responsible for processing smell.

If it experiences trauma in some way, it can lead you to smelling things that aren’t there. Even stress has been known to cause this symptom:

Common Olfactory Hallucinations

Are you experiencing any other olfactory hallucinations along with your burning smell in nose?

For example, are you smelling “icky” odors like bad perfume, garbage, a gas leak, wet dog, or hydrogen sulfide (rotten eggs)?

If so, it might be associated with an onset of a migraine. In some cases, it might also be associated with Alzheimer’s.

However, this is extremely rare if you’re young. Remember that smell disorders as a whole aren’t that rare.

It’s estimated that nearly 3 million Americans suffer from them. A decreased ability to smell is called “Hyposmia”, while an inability to smell is called “Anosmia”.

However, a distortion in smell (which is what you’re experiencing) is referred to as “Parosmia”.

Burning Smell in Nose

People who fall in this category might also have a sweet taste in mouth (since both senses are located near each other in the brain).

Phantom smells can happen in one nostrils or both. It can last for a few minutes, a few days, or even a few weeks.

It might even be chronic in some patients. Some people end up living with this condition forever.

What Happens in Extreme Cases?

Burning Smell in Nose

If an unpleasant odor like a burning smell in nose doesn’t go away, it can cause a person to lose weight. Why?

Because they can’t stand the taste of food (remember- both senses are linked).

If a primary cause isn’t found, a doctor may refer you to a psychiatrist, since phantom smells can cause people to develop depression and/or suicidal behavior.

Dr. Donald Leopold from the University of Nebraska Medical Center said that “Nearly 50% of patients who seek surgery for their smell disorders have at one point or another considered suicide” (we paraphrased).

These patients simply don’t know how to deal with their disorder. If you’re in this situation, never give up and find ways to stay positive.

Diagnosing Smells That Aren’t There

There are three main tests that can help a doctor determine what’s causing your symptom:

  • CT Scan
  • MRI
  • EEG

These will reveal things like tumors, epilepsy, or sinus infections. Unfortunately, in a large percentage of cases, the primary cause is never found.

Even though diagnosing this symptom can be difficult, there are potential remedies.

For example, you can try sedatives, anti-depressants, or nasal saline drops. Another effective procedure that provides relief is surgery. But most people tend to leave this as a last resort.

Do you have HIV? If so, know that AIDS can sometimes cause a burning smell in nose.

Hypothyroidism, which is quite common, is another possibility. Older patients may want to be on the lookout for diseases like stroke, diabetes, or leprosy.

Try an In-Home Smell Test

A great way to test your sense of smell is to try this test: Take chocolate ice cream and vanilla ice cream and place them in separate cups side by side.

Now, try to see if you can distinguish each one via smell and via taste. If you can’t do this (they both taste and smell the same) then this definitely isn’t normal from a physiological standpoint.

Are You Smelling Cigarette Smoke?

People who experience a burning smell in nose oftentimes smell cigarette smoke too (even if they don’t smoke). They may both be present together, or show up separately.

Either way, they’re both very likely originating from the same cause. If your doctor can figure out what that cause is and treat it, then both of them should go away.

Don’t Settle Until You Get an Answer

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At the end of the day, this is a potentially serious symptom that you need to get answers for. Don’t just settle for an “I don’t know” from your doctor.

Just because one particular doctor can’t figure out the cause, doesn’t mean that another one can’t as well. Consult a few different expert opinions until you find out what’s wrong.

If it does end up being something like cancer, the sooner you begin treatment, the better chance you have at surviving.

In Summary

To summarize, a symptom like this can be caused by many different things. Nasal polyps, dental problems, tumors, cysts, Alzheimer’s, and infections can be to blame.

If it’s can infection, then taking antibiotics should make your symptoms go away.

If it’s a tumor, its location and state (malignant or benign) will determine what steps the doctors next. Wait a few days and see if your symptoms go away. If they don’t, schedule a visit with your doctor.

Ask a Question: If you want to ask a medical doctor a question that hasn't been answered in one of our articles go to: Ask a Medical Doctor About your Symptoms

Did you find the information in this article helpful?


  • Nice short feature. Have been smelling ‘forest fire’ on and off for 4 months. CT scan OK. Waiting on results from a 50+ minute MRI scan yesterday. The emotional angle makes sense, too. Keep up the good work!

      • Hello,
        I am having an unbelievably strong smell of cigarette smoke in my nose that will not go away. I quit smoking over two years ago and haven’t even been around anybody that smokes lately. Yesterday, I was at a skating rink. It is a large open space area and has a cafe area that makes pizzas in a toaster oven and yesterday it was extremely strong smelling in there since they must’ve burnt some of the pizzas a little. The only ventilation was a couple fans and the ac system, but you couldn’t tell. I don’t know if that’s what caused this issue, but it’s definitely a cigarette smell and not burning pizza smell anymore. It’s making me really nauseated and keeps getting stronger to the point that I can’t smell anything else but that. I do have hypothyroidism, but I’ve never had this issue before. Do you have any idea what this could possibly be? I was reading a little online and it says it can possibly be brain tumors, polyps, cancer or some other issues. I would appreciate any advice you can offer. Thanks

        • I’m an ex smoker and very sensitive to the smell of smoke. I was at a friend’s house today, she was smoking and now I can still smell smoke even though I left hours ago. Makes me feel a bit sick, too.

      • I get the burnt sooty acrid smells when in my flat which I bought 6 months ago.
        I can pin point mine to new Ikea bedroom furniture. I built it and slept in the room and felt it burn my throat. Ikea sent someone round who agreed they was a strong chemical smell even after 3 weeks of airing with windows open so agreed to take it all back. Afterwards I developed an awful cough and this burning smell which is now only in my lounge not bedroom anymore. I have changed all the furniture and laminated the floors to no avail. I am having allergic reactions for no reason the last being a massive rash all over me with heat and swelling and painful which I have had steroids for and recovering . I have developed asthma also and had problems with a new car which I changed and this one is fine. I have been referred to the allergy clinic at southmead hospital Bristol so let’s hope they can help. I do not suffer with depression and all the symptoms disappear when not in the flat unless someone comes near me who has used Bold 2 in 1 washing powder I have to get away quick. All very weird but glad I am not the only one. I have also decided to move house now.

  • I have been smelling smoke for a few months—so strong at times I can barely breath. It’s a bit earthier than cigarette smoke but I not only smell it, but can feel it in my throat and sinuses—seems very real but no one else smells it. I do have depression issues (precedes the smells) and a few other chronic health issues but this baffles me. I haven’t mentioned it to a doc yet— there are a number of other symptoms I have had for a year or more that they can’t diagnose, so I feel that they would think I’m making it up–or am crazy.

    It comes and goes, but I smell it strongly at least a dozen times a day. Very frustrating.

    • I have this over bearing smell in my nose constant ,at home ,in work ,no one else can smell this ,I do have depression issues and am taking anti depressants,not only do I smell the burning ,I feel it in my nose ,I’m also experiencing nose bleeds ,not bad ,but even so it bleeds ,I’m going around the bend with it,my eyes burn ,my throat ,it’s a horrible thing !

  • I have been smelling similar to a burnt metal for a couple of weeks. I notice it more when I am home and later in the day. However I do smell it at work, in my car or at my daughters. I have drainage down back of my throat- but this is nothing new. I called my Dr. and now we’ll see what she suggests. I haven’t had a cold or been sick, nor do I feel like I have a sinus infection. I just turned 60. So I guess that I am not young.

    • Sounds like me…but I don’t have the drainage..driving me a little nuts. I just turned 58. I haven’t made an appointment with doctor.

      • I also get this im 32 been getting it on and off for a couple of months i suffer with anxiety mentioned it to my doctor but thy dont seem bothered its driving me nuts too

  • My mom has this issue and it’s torturing her. I’m trying to convince her into seeing a neurologist and an ent. but she’s too stubborn.

    • I’ve had the smell of smoke for 5 months.went to g.p. put me on antibiotics.didn’t help,went to ENT put me on prednisone and another antibiotic,through all this I didn’t feel I had a bad sinus infection.went to g.p.for 6month check up now feel bad smoke smell intense,put me on another antibiotic,saline spray,more prednisone and zertac allergy sinuses really bad.went to ENT now went in for sinus surgery,the only time I had relief was when I couldn’t smell at all.all healed smoke smell back with a vengeance,flushing sinuses 2x a day and flonase.I need a cpap machine but can’t breathe hence no sleep.ENT said didn’t know what to do for me.don’t know why he won’t send me for CT scan.I suggested a neurologist,he shrugged shoulders then said he would think about who to Consult,if don’t hear in 2 weeks call.I think I’m going to seek out neurologist on my that’s my experience.ENT said flu virus caused this ,didn’t have the flu and had a flu shot.desperate and panicked,now have headaches in eyes and forehead.???????

  • I’m having the same issue. I have had it for at least 3 weeks though it may have been longer. It is driving me nuts. It is worse at home though. I don’t know why that would be. I have had draining into throat since Feb. Maybe it is polyps or something. Thank you for the information. I will see the doctor in a few weeks.

  • I smell fire on and off. It’s kind of weird because I can barely smell anything most of the time. It makes me constantly check my house for fires. I think it might be due to autoimmune disorder. Can it? I have lots of migraines regularly due to auto immune.

    • I have smelled this burning smell mostly of the night and have got up to see it something burning
      Have you found out what it might be

  • I am having the burning smell as well for about 2 months. I have been very depressed and anxious for the last 3 years and have had an anxiety and depressive disorder for 40+ years. I have had memory problems for years but especially worst for the past 3 years. I experienced a severe trauma and stress 2 1/2 years ago when my son passed away. Thank you for helping me understand this symptom, I have scheduled an appointment with a neurologist and I’m very anxious to find out the cause of this smell.

  • I have been smelling like a diesel exhaust type smell. This first happened to me about a year ago, then it subsided, but now it’s back as of this past week. It drives me crazy and it feels like it’s irritating my sinuses, but there’s nothing there; no one else can smell anything! My mother suffered from Alzheimer’s, and I’m 52, so that concerns me, especially considering she had an early onset of the disease. I hope that’s not what I’ve got going on, or something worse. Thank God I have a doctors appointment tomorrow.
    I wish the best for those of you who have commented on here, and hope you find relief. This is horrible!

  • I’ve been getting it on and off for a while but I had an unrelated MRI scan because bi have Ms nobody mentioned a brain tumour so I’m assuming I’m ok. I have degenerative spine condition and reflux so…. Good luck everyone on this thread. My uncle had the same and yes he had cancer, Lung cancer.

  • I have been smelling cigarette smoke too. I live in a semi-detached home and thought that it may be coming from our neighbor. Then my mom who is 78 came in and told me she doesn’t smell anything. My 9 year old also came and agreed with my mom. I went to the doctor and he sent me for an x-ray. They found a cyst. Now my doctor is sending me for an MRI.

  • I have this intense burning stench too. For me it started a couple of years ago, at first I panicked, I called my husband frantically worried there was something burning in the house I couldn’t find. It was on and off for a little while, it went away and then came back, went away for a while and came on again a few days ago. It blocks out most other smells and when it starts to get on my nerves I smell essential oils, Rosemary is calming and tea tree makes a nice change. I don’t suffer from headaches or nosebleeds but have started to have some extreme dizziness which comes on all of a sudden and feels as though I’ve been temporarily blinded. These dizziness is infrequent, there is no pattern and the last occurrence was last Thursday. That episode lasted around 15 minutes and lingered for around half the day. Taste seems to be fine. I would love for it to go away, it definitely is quite unpleasant, especially when its constant, I couldn’t imagine having to deal with it permanently.

  • My son is only 13 years old and just woke me because he had this terrible chemical like burning smell in his nose. He says he was up for hours with it, but didn’t want to wake us, but he finally couldn’t stand it any longer. After reading online I’m concerned and nervous that this could be “phantasmia” or a smell disorder of some type that could mean a serious condition. I will call his pediatrician when they open. I’m worried.

  • Have had burnt smell in my nose for at least four months. Also have lost hearing in one ear. Took a smell test at ENT and failed it miserably. Although, MRI came back OK as did EEG. Have gone to another ENT. First visit they said my ears looked fine with the exception of some wax buildup, which they cleaned out. Took hearing test and one ear had drastic hearing loss. Scheduled me for another CT scan of sinuses and ENT to check out my sinuses with a probe of some sort. This whole issue started about three months after I had radiation therapy on my temple for a squamous cancer that had moved into the nerves on my face. I’ve also started having the same tingling feelings on my face that I had before the cancer was removed, except they sometimes extend to my scalp. I am frustrated and a bit depressed as I can’t seem to get any resolution to the problem. It’s just test after test and people, even doctors looking at me as if I’m lying.

  • I have this burnt smell feeling for 3 months now. Sometimes I think people near me also can sense it. ( by their reactions ). ..

  • 3 years back, after a camping trip it seemed I had brought the campfire smell home with me. That campfire smell got stronger over the past 3 years until I could smell it at work, in my car, at stores and restaurants and other peoples’ houses, but mostly in my living room at home. I think it became noticeable after quitting smoking – the torment became progressively worse for nearly 3 years. I was always asking people to check for smoke, asking them to extinguish the incense etc. But recently I went to the dentist and everything changed! I had xrays and a very comprehensive scaling/ cleaning including the gums and it feels like the smell is gone! I had wondered if it had something to do with my teeth and was expecting painful and expensive work – but it looks like the cleaning fixed it!
    I will report back if I get further info but hey – the trip to the dentist seems to have worked for me!

  • Have been smelling smoke for months now. I too have checked for something burning around my house but I also experience smell at work and other places. Constant headache for a week back in February and Doctor put me on “Topromax” and sent me for head Ct which came back negative. Neurologist appointment for new patients is six months away, what a joke. Worry doesn’t help i’m sure.

  • Does anyone ever smell mold or mildew, but can’t find the source of it? I’ve been smelling this really weird, strong smell — it’s similar to the smell from when I forgot I had put a banana peel in my office trash can and it rotted. I’ve looked everywhere, can’t find the source of the smell. Sometimes, I start thinking that it’s ME that stinks, but my SO assures me he can’t smell it at all. It’s driving me crazy. I mostly notice it in the office in our basement, but occasionally other places, as well. It feels like it’s burning my nostrils, but not a “fire” type smell exactly – more like ammonia, and VERY much like the rotten banana peel from months ago.

  • I can smell something burnt through from my nose till throat and every morning I wake up to it.

    I can smell something like coal or some sort of it whenever i breathe..and i don’t fell like breathing as I will smell that coal/paper burn/ aroma smell again. I don’t know what it is.. but its throughout my nose and till throat. and not a single occurrence during day time. It only occurs after sleeping hours. Is it something from my room ? i cant stand any high aromatic perfumes it just get into my throat from my nose I mean I can taste things from my nose . its very irritating . Please help.

  • I have had a burning smell in my nose the last year or so. 44 yr male. Smell developed after some intense ( 30 minutes approx. ) nose bleeds. Dr. Said it may be stress related. Bp is always normal. Non smoker, social drinker. Any ideas?

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