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Often when I sneeze, I smell flowers for a few seconds afterwards.

I've done some searching on the internet, and apparently it's something that is at least not entirely uncommon, although the exact smell description seems to differ. It's sometimes also referred to as a 'honey sneeze'.

Just to be clear, there are no flowers anywhere in sight when I sneeze.

Biology has never been a field of study of mine, but the scientist in me finds it fascinating. I've yet to come across any real explanation for this phenomenon, only guesses.

Does anyone know what causes this, or can you at least give a somewhat likely explanation?

Edit: When I sneeze through my mouth, I do not get the same smell sensation.

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  • $\begingroup$ it might just be the sneeze might be pushing air around the nasal cavity, putting the flower pollen and other molecules into contact with more olfactory sensors. $\endgroup$ – shigeta Sep 25 '12 at 18:20
  • $\begingroup$ I get the same sensation and the same floral scent. I am an ecologist and can only relate it to smelling like the yellow oil seed rape plant. It's very weird! $\endgroup$ – user1712 Nov 27 '12 at 10:40
  • $\begingroup$ Every time I sneeze really hard, it smells like beeswax rather than flowers. Not sure what the cause is, either. $\endgroup$ – Peter Grace Sep 16 '15 at 14:29
  • $\begingroup$ I have experienced this weird floral smell too. I can also confirm that other people generate this smell after sneezing. Someone sneezed next to me and then I smelled it. When my husbands allergies kick up and he sneezes all day the whole house smells like that weird floral smell when you walk in the door. $\endgroup$ – slashdottir Jun 28 '17 at 13:19
  • $\begingroup$ I knew an italian at school who liked to stick straws from grass up his nose to intentionally sneeze. He would say "it's great man, when you sneeze your body releases opiates for a moment so I get high for free" $\endgroup$ – com.prehensible Oct 13 '18 at 11:11
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This will be a hypothetical answer for the moment, so take it with a grain of salt until I can find sources or someone else does:

My best (educated) guess would be that the smell is there all the time, and when you sneeze you reset what's currently being "ignored" (in that you are not aware of it, though it is being sensed) by your brain momentarily. The source of the smell may be up in the air - it could be cologne/perfume, fabric softener residue on your clothes, what you ate for breakfast and are currently digesting, the bar of soap in the kitchen, etc. - but I haven't heard of "scent illusions" before.

One very quirky way of possibly testing that out is to remove yourself from your regular environment, sniff some ground coffee beans for half a minute, and then re-enter your home or smell your clothes to see if any of the scents match up with what you do smell when you sneeze.

My apologies that this isn't a thoroughly-sourced answer, but hopefully it acts as a good starting point.

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  • $\begingroup$ My observations agree with this. We're unconsciously filtering out a lot of, even olfactory information. $\endgroup$ – R Stephan Sep 24 '12 at 16:58
  • $\begingroup$ I have my doubts.. the smell is quite pronounced, and always the same. Even when I haven't been near a flower for a week. $\endgroup$ – Thorarin Sep 25 '12 at 21:53
  • $\begingroup$ It doesn't have to be a flower, it could be anything that has a floral scent. Fabric softener, deodorant, cologne, soap, lotion, hair products (shampoo, conditioner, gel), aftershave... We filter out a lot of scents. If you don't believe it's something you're encountering in your daily life, then it might be a product of your own system - maybe a compound in your nasal mucous that encounters the receptors when you sneeze. Haven't heard of that happening, but it's not my best area. $\endgroup$ – MCM Sep 25 '12 at 23:18
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You may have some liquid in your nose after sneeze. This liquid can contain microbial flora, which can have a smell, which is interpreted by you as of flowers. Check your health with a doctor to be on the safe side.

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Another starting point (apologies if this has more considerations than a 'thoroughly-sourced answer') ...

A sneeze is a violent, temporarily mechanically stressful event. See How much force is generated by a sneeze?

(Temporary) mechanical stress on the brain can have many effects.

One point you should consider for your Testing Hypothesis: If you sneeze through your mouth, do you still have this effect?

I would also suggest looking into the interplay of short mechanical stress, serotonin, and the olfactory system...

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  • $\begingroup$ I rarely sneeze through my mouth, but I'll try to pay attention next time :) $\endgroup$ – Thorarin Sep 25 '12 at 21:49
  • $\begingroup$ I forgot to update earlier, but when I sneeze through my mouth, I do not seem to get the smell. $\endgroup$ – Thorarin Nov 7 '12 at 11:05

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