Anyone who gets migraines knows about auras - visual changes that precede the pain. Those changes vary from person to person, and most types have been documented. But there may be another early warning sign for some migraine sufferers, something less well-known: phantom or imagined smells.
Just as not everyone who gets migraines has altered vision, only a small percentage of sufferers report hallucinating smells or odors. It is, nonetheless, worth a look.
Okay, this is the slightly boring part - stay with me, please?
An estimated 11% of the world's population, or about 766,700,000 people, suffer from migraines. This includes kids and adults of all ages. Of those 766M miserable people, about 30% (230,010,000) experience auras.
In the study, conducted at Montefiore Headache Center in New York, 14 of 2,100 participants (0.667%) reported olfactory hallucinations. Translated to the aura-suffering migraine population, meaning - potentially - 1,534,167 people around the world may experience these phantom smells.
Phew! That's enough to trigger a headache.
What Types of Smells?
If migraines weren't ugly enough, most of the sufferers who reported imagined smells prior to an attack didn't smell roses and potpourri. Although some did mention the scent of coffee or oranges.
According to Dr. Matthew S. Robbins, senior researcher on the new study, "The most common [scent] was of the burning or smoke variety." With a general burning smell topping the list, other reports included cigar smoke, wood smoke, and burned popcorn odors. (I was good until the burned popcorn part. Ick.)
The next pattern of smells, after burning, was what the researchers called decomposition smells - garbage or sewage odors. Now that's an addition to a migraine that no one needs to experience.
Although an extremely small (calculated) number of people suffer strange, phantom smells prior to onset, it is something - if you get migraines - to consider.
My understanding is that migraine medications are most effective if taken before the attack has taken hold. This means that any weapon in a sufferer's arsenal that provides a heads-up (pardon the pun) is a good thing.
I am not a medical / healthcare professional. I simply offer my opinion of what I read in the news and on the 'Net. Nothing written here is intended to be medical advice or to substitute for consultation with a healthcare professional.
Always consult your physician about any health conditions or concerns.