If you’ve ever lost your sense of smell, then you’ll understand how disheartening it can feel.
Smelling allows us to detect odours, distinguish flavours and find joy in tasting food. But the anguish of anosmia – the loss or absence of smell – doesn’t stop with no longer being able to perceive flavours. Without smell, all scents become one-dimensional. Everything from inhaling fresh spring air to snuggling in close with your children envelops a sensorial flatness, which can leave you feeling disoriented, disconnected, even somewhat empty.
Some good news. Losing your sense of smell doesn’t have to be permanent. With the right technique and a lot of practice you can regain your sense of smell – smell training to the rescue!
The Science of sniffing
Our nose is an incredible sensory organ that works non-stop. It’s home to tiny scent detectors, known as olfactory receptors, that line the nasal cavity and are connected directly to the brain’s limbic system. When an aroma enters our nose, it stimulates the receptors and the brain’s olfactory system. This direct connection generates our response to the scent we’ve just inhaled, igniting any memories or emotions we have that are associated with that smell.
When olfactory neurons stop functioning as they should, your sense of smell may deceive you. But, no need to fret. Losing your sense of smell is a common post-viral symptom, something many of us experienced first-hand during the Covid-19 pandemic (Jafari, et. al 2021). So, why can’t you smell anything?
Here’s what can happen. Anosmia, the inability to perceive smell and parosmia, the distortion of normal aromas, are caused by damaged olfactory receptors cells. Most people recover within a few weeks of a viral infection, but sometimes the damage can last months and may even require training to aide odour recognition.
What is smell training?
Think of it as physical therapy for your nose. Smell training helps stimulate and restore neurological connections between nerve cells and the brain. You can help to regain your sense of smell and discern smells better by repetitively sniffing strong scents (in the form of essential oils or perfumes, for example) every day. The first step is to pick a few potent scents.
Smell training technique:
Here’s how to retrain the brain.
Once you’re armed with your aromatic arsenal all you have to do is practice sniffing.
- Take 60 seconds, twice a day to sniff up to 3 potent scents.
- Research states, introducing new scents to your ‘smell training’ may be beneficial – try to switch up your scents.
- We recommend 20 second sessions for each scent.
- Hold the familiar scent of your choice close to your nose and inhale.
- Short quick sniffs (like a rabbit) are better than a deep inhale.
- Do this every day for 4 months for best results – practice makes perfect!
Looking at a picture of what you’re smelling may help to improve results. Cognitive memory can help to connect neural pathways from nose to brain. But if you don’t have a photo, use your imagination to remember what this scent was once like for you. The smell training process is repetitive and can feel tedious – but keeping it going will help you build the habit. And the results are rewarding!
Jafari A, Lehmann AE, Metson R. Is Olfactory Training Effective Treatment for Postinfectious Smell Loss? Laryngoscope. 2021 Jun;131(6):1198-1199. doi: 10.1002/lary.28902.