• Harvey Young

Smell Training for bringing back the sense of smell after Covid-19 infection

Several current studies suggest that repeated short-term exposure to smells can potentially be beneficial for those who have lost their sense of smell after virus infection including Covid-19.

According to the smell disorders charity Fifth Sense, studies suggest you should choose scents that represent the four smell categories: Flowery (eg, rose), Fruity (eg, lemon), Spicy (eg, cloves) and Resinous (eg, eucalyptus). However, the key point is that you use things that have a distinctive smell, it is easily identifiable and familiar to those undertaking the test.

For example, for school children, things like orange, vanilla and mint are smells even very young children are likely to be able to identify. For older adults, garlic, coffee, and coconut are additional scents you could use – the list is endless. You can adapt what you use to best suit cultures, age range and circumstances.

The four smell categories: Flowery, Fruity, Spicy and Resinous

Remember, the sense of smell can change and improve, it can be trained and developed with exposure to odours, as expert perfumers will testify.

Smell Training Preparation

  • Choose a few items from your home that provide a range of smells – try to select things that you know you found to be pleasant and/or have a connection with. Lemon and orange rind, nutmeg, clove, mint, eucalyptus, ground coffee, coconut and vanilla are some of the objects you can use.

  • You can also use the raw material (e.g smell directly from the pepper grinder, rip a sprig of fresh herbs) or you can use small bowls or jars (such as ramekins, clean glass spice or baby food jars...)

  • Once you comfortable with the routine of smell training and if you want to increase the range of smells, you might want to invest in natural essential oils or quality perfume.

A man in smell training

Smell Training Instructions

The training is best conducted when assisted by a family member or a friend to test your ability to smell without seeing the source

  • Place each source into a separate bowl/jar or just take the raw material into your hands

  • Close your eyes or use a sleep mask to ensure you cannot see the item

  • Ask your assistant to present a scent at a time

  • Relax and slowly take short gentle sniffs – sniffing too hard, too quickly and too deeply is likely to result in you not being able to detect anything

  • Give your full attention to the training. Try not to have too many other distractions.

  • Repeat 2 or 3 more times, then rest for five minutes

Record your response to the scale below

0%= No ability to smell

25%= I can detect a very faint smell but couldn’t identify the source

50% = I can detect a faint smell and still couldn’t identify the source

75% = I can detect a faint smell and I could identify the source

100% = Full ability to smell

  • Move on to the next smell and repeat as above

Smell Training Tips

  • The most important aspect of smell training is to do it regularly, at least twice every day, ideally morning and evening – some items can be sealed in the jar and used again. Some you will need to refresh each day

  • Relax and inhale naturally

  • Don’t sniff too hard or for too long…10 seconds for each smell is enough

  • Try to stick with it. If you cannot smell anything at first then do not be disheartened

  • Everyone is different. Post viral loss/disorders are recoverable in about 90% of people. For some people, it can take a few weeks or even a few months before they identify anything, and some people may not get any benefit from it at all.

A woman exploring possible treatment options for smell loss with her doctor

Smell disorders such as “inability to smell”, “reduced/distorted sense of smell”, and “smelling things that aren’t present”…these disorders can be caused by viral infections other than Covid-19, swelling in the nose/sinuses, allergies, traumatic head injuries and a range of other causes. Therefore, it is important to have the cause of your smell loss investigated and to explore possible treatment options with your doctor.

Credit: Fifth Sense

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