07 Jul A sniff of hope
A medical breakthrough in Israel has brought about good news to many around the world with family members lying in the hospital beds. Scientists from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot published findings that 100% of coma patients who responded to a “sniff test” regained consciousness during the four-year study period. Up to before this, diagnostic tests were rather inaccurate, causing 2 out of 5 severe brain injury cases to be misdiagnosed. The uncertainties of whether the patient is conscious or will eventually consciousness make it extremely excruciating for doctors and families to weigh the extent of pain treatment and life support. With this new simple and potentially inexpensive “sniff test”, the decision-making process is made less difficult, on whether to disconnect patients from life support machines.
If an unconscious person is able to respond to a smell detected by a change in the nasal airflow, they are most likely to regain consciousness. For example, the patient will experience shorter and shallower sniffs when an unpleasant odour enters their nose. This was tested using a small device attached to the nose to measure the amount of air inhaled by the patients in response to jars containing shampoo (pleasant odour), rotting fish (unpleasant odour) and vacuum(no odour).
This research highlights the primal role of our sense of smell in human bodily functions where it controls our behaviors, emotions and memories. We are already aware of how our sense of smells can enrich our tastes, evoke certain memories and alert us of danger. Now, we learn how it gives hope and signifies recovery for patients suffering from brain injury.