Smelling Smoke-Like Odors With Allergy Shots?

September 1, 2006

My patient, in whom allergic rhinitis has been diagnosed, has been receiving weekly allergy shots since June 2003 and has benefited greatly. However, she complains that she sometimes smells "cigarette smoke" for periods of 2 to 3 days. What might be the cause of this?

My patient, in whom allergic rhinitis has been diagnosed, has been receiving weekly allergy shots since June 2003 for allergies to dust, grass, mountain cedar trees, and ragweed. She has benefited greatly from these shots. However, she complains that she sometimes smells "cigarette smoke" for periods of 2 to 3 days--even though she is never exposed to it. What might be the cause of this?

- MD

When the olfactory membrane is inflamed or is undergoing changes, distortions in smelling often occur. Smelling smoke-like odors is not uncommon. It is presumed that this phenomenon reflects abnormal stimulation of the olfactory receptor cells. Odorant quality is coded by a combination of receptor cell activations. It is possible that an allergen used in the shots induces a reaction within the olfactory epithelium, which, in turn, produces the smoke-like dysosmia.

- Richard L. Doty, MD
   Professor of Otorhinolaryngology
   Director, Smell & Taste Center
   University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine
   Philadelphia