Why the post-sneeze sweet smell?
September 8, 2005 3:25 PM   Subscribe

What's that sweet post-sneeze smell I smell?

Often times after I sneeze, especially after a good nose-clearer, I get a brief smell sensation that I can best describe as being "sweet." (Perhaps a little floral? It's very difficult to put it into words.)

It doesn't last long -- between sneezing just now and endeavoring to post this, it's gone already -- and the odor/sensation is very consistent from sneeze to sneeze over a period of years.

What the heck is this? Is it some olfactory illusion from over-compensation for some anti-this-odor component in my snot? Does this happen to other people?

From the archives: abcde smells something metallic in this thread; no, I don't see sparks when it happens.
posted by cortex to Science & Nature (23 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I also experience this. I thought I was the only one. Wow.
posted by Clay201 at 3:30 PM on September 8, 2005

definitely doesn't happen to me.
posted by Sonic_Molson at 3:35 PM on September 8, 2005

posted by footnote at 3:43 PM on September 8, 2005

I always smell copper.
Maybe you are smelling yourself.
posted by idiotfactory at 3:47 PM on September 8, 2005

After sneezing, I often get a whiff of fresh air, even when the room is filled with cigarette smoke (damn roommate!). I have attributed it to nasal sensory pads getting over-stimulated after a period of dormancy.

Thankfully, it's not the smell of having crapped myself.
posted by mischief at 3:49 PM on September 8, 2005

Clay201: cool! Co-freaks!

idiotfactory: if I was smelling myself, "sweet" is probably not the word I would come up with.

mischief: it seems to happen in a wide variety of environments, so while the over-stimulation idea is intriguing I doubt the specific, static odor I sense belongs to the environment in which I'm sneezing.
posted by cortex at 3:56 PM on September 8, 2005

I, too, get a distinct post-sneeze smell. Don't know how I would describe it, but it's not unpleasant.
When I exercise myself to exhaustion (which doesn't happen much these days), I frequently smell a really bad smell that seems familiar, but I can't place or describe it, either.
posted by willpie at 4:01 PM on September 8, 2005

I've also noticed the same thing. It's a very particular, odd smell, and it doesn't always accompany a sneeze for me. One website suggests it's sinusitis, but I'm not entirely conviced.
posted by LimePi at 4:05 PM on September 8, 2005

Is this a different smell than the usual post-sneeze smell? I thought the 'smell of a sneeze' was something everyone had experienced. I attributed it to the fine mist of saliva and/or nasal moisture expelled by a good sneeze, since it doesn't happen if you stifle the sneeze. And when someone else sneezes, you can smell it (in a closed car for example) so I don't think it's triggered by the sneeze itself. Or are you talking about something completely different?

As an aside, I'd like to know what the actual aroma compound is. An apartment we moved into once had an area of carpet which smelled just like this. It was dry and unmarked but the smell lingered for months.
posted by Rubber Soul at 4:13 PM on September 8, 2005

i smell that smell after sneezing, too. and as an additional data point, one time i was standing in a line at an airport, and this guy next to me sneezed, and i smelled it again. so it's not just some neuronal effect brought on by your own sneeze- it's something actually produced in the atmosphere.

and boy, do i ever know how gross it is that i smelled some other dude's sneeze. ick.
posted by sergeant sandwich at 5:28 PM on September 8, 2005

Happens to me too, cortex, although I have no idea why.
posted by ubersturm at 5:41 PM on September 8, 2005

I get that sometimes. Maybe the force of a good sneeze stimulates the smell receptors and generates the sensation of smell?
posted by Mom at 6:00 PM on September 8, 2005

Never got that myself.I will have to pay better attention.
posted by johnj at 7:10 PM on September 8, 2005

I smell dust. Or maybe copper, like idiotfactory. Hard to describe, but definitely not flowers.
posted by soundslikeobiwan at 9:22 PM on September 8, 2005

I've never been able to figure it out for sure, but it's been one of the most popular discussions on my blog for a few years now - and one of the big things that brings people in from search engines! There are plenty of theories here and here.
posted by srah at 9:27 PM on September 8, 2005

It smells like pennies. And pennies smell like the head on beer tastes.

I sense a conspiracy.
posted by abcde at 10:49 PM on September 8, 2005

Ech, my post is ridiculously moot when I see I was cited in the post. I am definitely skimming too much, it's bedtime.
posted by abcde at 10:50 PM on September 8, 2005


Snot contains a lot of mucosal protiens as well as all the microorganisms that have been trapped by your mucus, in addition to sloughed off cells from your own body. Hydrolized yeast extract" is an euphemism word for MSG...

Sneezing will also aerosolize a lot of mucus & the stuff that's trapped in mucus and sneezing can also clear some of the molecules that have been stuck to your olfactory receptors.

In some people, odours emited from people with a dissimilar (but not dissimilar enough) genotype can be interpreted as"sweet" smelling, and self-odours sometimes fall into the same category - clearing the olfactory receptors could possibly re-prime them to recognize molecules that they've become angergized to.


Just hypothesizing here, though..
posted by PurplePorpoise at 11:08 PM on September 8, 2005

Ooh I have it too! Only it's not a pleasant smell. It's bad breath-like and I'm glad it's gone every time. It's not actually to do with bad breath though, I think, because sometimes it doesn't happen, or only after one sneeze and not the next. And I've asked people and I don't have bad breath. I always thought it's because the inside of people is just icky and some of it comes out when you sneeze...
posted by Skyanth at 11:36 PM on September 8, 2005

Umami is nothing like 'sweet'. You can buy pure MSG at the supermarket, and taste it. I did so and discovered the flavor was very familiar.
posted by delmoi at 11:34 AM on September 9, 2005

Also, I've never smelled a sneez.
posted by delmoi at 11:35 AM on September 9, 2005

Totally. I think it smells like pollen, floral but not. I also get it if I get bumped on the nose, rub my nose too hard etc. I get other smells coming from (I think) my sinuses on other occasions, but this one is really distinctive. I would love to know what it is.
posted by crabintheocean at 11:52 AM on September 9, 2005

I get this, and it smells like hay to me (am I the only person answering this question who's rural enough to know what hay smells like?). Pollen would be close too. It doesn't happen every time.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 3:04 AM on September 11, 2005

« Older How do I buy my girlfriend glasses for her...   |   What Progressive People should I interview in DC? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.