For most of us, our sense of smell enhances our enjoyment of life. The aromas of favorite foods, flowers, perfumes, and even rain enrich our lives. How many of us associate a certain smell with Grandma’s house, an aunt’s flower garden, Christmas baking, or other memories? Smells can also warn of us of impending danger, as in the smell of smoke or gas.
But what if you suddenly can’t smell anything? Many people suffering from COVID-19 have had that exact experience. According to Healthline.com, about 86% of people suffering from milder cases of COVID-19, lose (anosmia) or have a decreased sensitivity (hyposmia) to some or all smells. For some people this condition can drag on for months. Others may partially recover their sense of smell, but things now smell differently than what they did pre-COVID.
(Here is a quick downloadable pdf of the directions if you don’t have time to read the whole post).
Try Smell Training
But there is hope and it’s called smell training. If you’re one who has experienced olfactory dysfunction due to COVID-19, you may want to try smell training. Fortunately, it can be done right in the convenience of your own home.
As a Level-1 certified aromatherapist, I’ve used essential oils in many ways, but smell training is a new discovery for me. A close friend who is recovering from COVID recently told me about her success with the training. I began to research smell training, and was excited about what I read. I’m suggesting the following protocol based on information from the study I cite at the bottom of this page and from the FifthSense Smell Training website. Be sure to read to the end of this post, where I include a link to the actual study and a short synopsis of the results from the study.
Suggested Smell Training for COVID-19 & Others with Olfactory Dysfunction
- *Rose or (Rose) geranium essential oil (flowery)
- Lemon essential oil (fruity)
- Clove essential oil (cinnamon or ginger would be a good substitute) (spicy)
- Eucalyptus essential oil (Rosemary would be a good substitute) (resinous)
- 4 small, wide-mouth glass jars (the size of a baby food jar)
- 4 droppers (if your essential oils don’t have a dropper top on them)
- Optional: Visual representation of each item the essential oils come from (a picture from the internet or from a book of a lemon, a rose, cloves, and eucalyptus) — or the actual item, such as a lemon if you have it in your home.
Keep in mind that when choosing the essential oils to use with the smell training, choose fragrances you are familiar with. Most of us are familiar with the scent of rose and lemon. If you aren’t familiar with eucalyptus or clove, I’ve included suggested substitutes. Essential oils can be found in health food stores. I’ve also included links to Amazon where you can purchase each of the oils. (Please note these are affiliate links, and I will earn a small amount of compensation if you make a purchase through my link. I value and use these products myself.)
Professionals suggest we choose oils for smell training from different categories of scent, such as the flowery, fruity, spicy, and resinous categories represented here. You don’t want to use all similar scents, like all citrus or all flowery.
*Keep in mind that rose essential oil is very expensive. Rose geranium (often times just referred to as geranium) is a good substitute, as it smells similar to rose, but it is much less expensive.
Label each jar with the name of one of the essential oils and then put 5 drops of the corresponding essential oil in the jar. Tighten the lid. Assemble your visual representations if you’re going to be using them as in the study. You’re now ready to begin. You should do your smell training twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening. Read through the directions first and then begin your training session.
Smell Training Steps
- Close your eyes and randomly choose a first jar — don’t look at which one it is. Unscrew the lid and take light sniffs for about one minute, not deep inhalations. Light sniffs will cause the molecules to travel to the top of your nose, into the olfactory epithelium, where neurons can communicate with the brain to help your nose recognize the aromas again. Deep breaths will instead route the molecules into your lungs. This is good for helping with respiratory issues (especially when using essential oils that have an affinity for the respiratory tract such as peppermint, thyme, or rosemary), but that is not what we want for our smell training purposes. Remember, light sniffs. See if you can detect any scent.
- Open your eyes, look at the jar to identify the scent, and if you are using a visual representation, get that and put it next to you. Wait 30 seconds then repeat the whole process again, but this time look at the picture or actual item while you are sniffing the jar. Alternatively, if you’re not using a picture, recall a memory that you have associated with this scent and focus on that while you sniff it for another 30 seconds.
- Wait about five minutes then move on to scent #2 and repeat the process. Once you have completed all four aromas, you are finished. I would suggest keeping a journal of the results so you can track your progress. Here is a simple Smell Training Chart you can download and print to record your observations. Use the extra space on the lines to add notes.
- Important tips: Remember to do this twice a day. And focus entirely on what you’re doing by eliminating any distractions. Don’t watch TV, listen to music, eat, or anything else. Give your mind totally to this experience. Be persistent and keep it up. In the study, those who had the best results kept up the training for over 28 days.
- In a 2021 study called “Olfactory Training and Visual Stimulation Assisted by a Web Application for Patients With Persistent Olfactory Dysfunction After SARS-CoV-2 Infection: Observational Study, scientists noted significant improvements with smell training. At the end of the study, scientists concluded that “Olfactory training and visual stimulation assisted by a dedicated web application (the visual representation) was associated with significant improvement in olfaction, especially after 28 days of olfactory training.”
- FifthSense Smell Training
- 5 Tips for Smell Training with Frauke Galia (video)
We pray that you have a quick recovery from Covid and fully regain your sense of taste and smell. If you are comfortable doing so, leave us a comment if you tried the training and what your results were.