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Dr. Andrew Rynne

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Getting smell of burning plastic and have headache. Is this the sign of tumour?

Answered by
Dr. Sumit Bhatti

ENT Specialist

Practicing since :1991

Answered : 2554 Questions

Posted on Mon, 11 Feb 2013 in General Health
Question: I have had the smell of burning plastic in my nostrils for several weeks as well as the odd headache these symptoms come and go, I remember having this issue in the past before as well but it just goes away, I have heard its possibly a tumour, is this true?
Answered by Dr. Sumit Bhatti 2 hours later

Thank you for your query.

1. The bad smell that you get through your nose when you inhale is most likely due to a mild sinus infection (you have headache sometimes) or stagnant mucus including drying up of normal nasal secretions. Have you had a recent cold, cough or fever? The inflammation may be fungal. Foreign bodies are rare in adults but must be ruled out if it is one sided. A burning plastic smell usually means a pungent compound usually produced by a bacterial or fungal infection.

2. Hence the first step will be to rule out the above by a visit to an ENT Specialist.

3. Oral infections, inflammation including gum and dental (any recent root canal or dental extraction?), acid reflux and Tonsilloliths are leading causes for a bad smell in the nose. Conditions like atrophic rhinitis, post nasal drip and acid reflux may also co-exist.

4. Get a general check-up done as many diseases such as diabetes, liver diseases, nasal polyps, tumors and so on should be ruled out.

5. If there is nasal and sinus inflammation you may take a trial of treatment including antibiotics, anti-allergic decongestants, saline nasal washes, mouthwashes, tongue cleaning, anti-reflux medication and probiotics. Smoking should be avoided. Otherwise you may proceed through 3 & 4.

6. If no cause is found, it may be a an olfactory hallucination. This a commonly seen with damage to the olfactory mucosa or olfactory bulb and tract, esp. some years after a head injury. This will show up on imaging such as CT/MRI. Do you have any occupational exposure to extreme cold, constant air conditioning or chemicals?

7. Symptoms due to a tumor usually do not regress. Olfactory and Pituitary tumors are rare. A tumor is unlikely to be missed on CT/MRI Scans.

8. You may follow up with the answers to the above questions, results of the above investigations and treatment for further recommendations.

I hope that I have answered your queries. If you have any further questions, I will be available to answer them.


Above answer was peer-reviewed by : Dr. Chakravarthy Mazumdar

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