Metallic Smell in Nose: Possible Causes

A metallic smell in the nose can be an alarming symptom. No matter what you go, or what you do, the smell seems to stick with you.

In some cases, you might notice that all the foods you eat taste slightly metallic. And no matter how much mouthwash you use, or how much air freshener you spray, that annoying smell doesn’t go away.

What Are Phantom Smells?

Phantom smells, or phantosmia, is a condition in which a person smells things that aren’t there. It’s an olfactory hallucination of sorts, often with no apparent cause.

Metallic smells aren’t the only possibility for people with phantosmia. Some people might smell cigarette smoke or burning smells.

Others may smell rotten eggs or other foul odors. While the smell hallucination varies from person to person, the fact remains: these smells aren’t there.

Understanding the Sense of Smell

Before showing the causes of a metallic smell in the nose, it helps to understand how the sense of smell works.

Firstly, smells are nothing more than tiny molecules that, when they reach your nose, cause you to experience a specific scent.

These molecules reach the olfactory sensory neurons, a group of specialized receptors. They transmit a signal to the brain where the smell can then be identified.

It’s possible for something to go wrong at any point throughout this journey. For example, if your olfactory sensory neurons are damaged, you may begin to experience phantom smells.

If they’re very damaged, you might lose your sense of smell altogether.

Causes of a Metallic Smell in the Nose

You can’t fix a problem until you know what’s causing it. There are many possible causes for experiencing a metallic smell.

Once you figure out the cause, then you can focus on the solution. Here are the most common reasons people develop phantosmia:

  • Tobacco: If you smoke cigarettes or chew tobacco, you’re at a higher risk for developing phantosmia.
  • Chemicals: Exposure to various chemicals- herbicides, pesticides, etc.- can result in phantom odors.
  • Dental Problems: Most people don’t realize that dental problems can lead to strange smells. This include cavities, impacted wisdom teeth, and more.
  • Migraines: During stage 2 of a migraine attack (the aura), it’s possible to experience phantom odors.
  • Nasal Polyps: This is a non-cancerous growth that appears within the nasal cavity. For some people, it can cause a metallic smell in the nose.
  • Infection: An infection within the nasal cavity can lead to unpleasant smells that aren’t there.

As you can see, many of the causes aren’t life-threatening. In rare cases, this symptom might occur if there’s a tumor in the olfactory area of the brain. However, this isn’t as common as the possibilities mentioned above.

Potential Serious Issues

Unfortunately, there are cases in which this symptom is the result of a serious issue. They include the following:

  • Onset of Seizure: People with epilepsy may begin to experience a metallic smell in the nose before a seizure begins.
  • Neurological Disease: Diseases like Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease can cause olfactory hallucinations.
  • Stroke: When blood supply gets cut off from the brain, it results in a stroke. Strokes can cause people to smell things that aren’t there.

Finally, if you’ve suffered head or neck injury, then you may experience phantom smells.

Overall, these are the less common causes. While it’s possible to have cancer or a stroke, it’s more likely to be nasal polyps or dental problems.

Treatment Options  

metallic smell in nose

As we mentioned earlier, the treatment option will depend on the underlying cause. For example, some people have it because of chemical exposure.

In this case, you’ll need to reduce your exposure to those chemicals. Here are some potential treatment options:

  • Saline Solution: Try rinsing out your noise with a saline solution. That might make your metallic smell in nose go away.
  • Nasal Spray: Some doctors may recommend a prescription nasal spray to alleviate your symptoms.
  • Surgery: If your phantom smells are due to nasal polyps, then surgery will be required to remove them.
  • Chemotherapy: If it’s caused by brain cancer, you may need a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation to kill the tumor.

Certain medications, like antidepressants, have also been shown to alleviate symptoms.

How Long Does a Metallic Smell in the Nose Last?

Some people experience this symptom for only a few hours or a few days. Others can have it chronically. It depends on the cause.

For simple causes, it will likely resolve on its own. If the cause is more complex (tumors, seizures, etc.) then it may last until you get proper treatment.

The best advice is to speak with a doctor about this symptom. If they believe it’s something serious, they may give you an MRI. An MRI can check the brain for tumors and other disorders.

The Link Between Phantom Smells and Anxiety

Anxiety can wreak havoc on your body, both mentally and physically. It can alter your senses, including your sense of smell.

If you’re chronically stressed, this can lead to experiencing a metallic smell in the nose. People who are chronically stressed can experience other sensory hallucinations, including strange tastes or sounds that aren’t there.

If you’re stressed, try stress-management techniques like meditation or exercising. This may help alleviate your symptom.


Experiencing smells that aren’t there can be a very frustrating experience. For some people, the smells are so strong that it ruins their quality of life.

If you suffer from phantom smells, speak with a doctor as soon as possible. After performing an MRI of the brain or an endoscopy of the nose, they may be able to find the root cause of your problem.

Once the cause has been identified, they’ll be able to give you the correct treatment.

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