Regaining your sense of smell: smell training for anosmia

Sharon Amos / 17 May 2016 ( 07 September 2020 )

How people with anosmia, or little or no sense of smell, can regain some olfactory sensation.



Many of us lose our sense of smell from time to time – often because of a cold, and a bunged-up nose. A cold will eventually dry up, and our sense of smell will return. However this doesn’t happen for everyone.

Anosmics for instance - people who have very little or no sense of smell – may have to face going through life without being able to smell the plants in their gardens, or the aroma of a chicken roasting in the oven.

Professor Thomas Hummel, while at the University of Dresden, asked himself the question - is it possible to train people who are anosmics - who have little or no sense of smell - to gradually regain some sensation?

This was the premise of Professor Hummel when he ran a study in 2009 at the University of Dresden, where he devised a technique that you can try at home, using four different fragrances. (Professor Hummel is now the leading scientist in smell and taste.)

At the beginning of the 20th century a German psychologist developed a system for classifying smells, rather as we do tastes, labelling them as flowery, foul, fruity, spicy, burnt or resinous.

To carry out his research, Professor Hummel chose scents from four of the categories, so that participants in the study would be exposed to a wide range of different odours. Thankfully, Professor Hummel has concentrated on the nicer smells. The training uses essential oils of rose (flowery), lemon (fruity), cloves (spicy) and eucalyptus (resinous).

His study group included people who’d loss their sense of smell after a head injury, after respiratory tract infection and sufferers who had no known cause for their problem. After 12 weeks, 30% of the group reported some improvement, no matter what the cause of their anosmia. It wasn’t an overwhelming result – the research was still in its infancy, as the process was poorly understood – but it was significant. And for anyone who is desperate to regain some sense of smell it is a technique worth trying.

Anosmia sufferers who have tried the smell-training technique individually have reported that they began to detect other scents in the environment, rather than just the oils used in the training. And some sufferers who thought their sense of smell was completely defunct were able to smell the essential oils.

How to try smell training at home 

You will need:

  • four essential oils – rose, lemon, cloves and eucalyptus (available from Boots, Neal’s Yard, Holland & Barrett and local chemists. NB you may need to look for clove oil in the dental care department.)
  • a supply of cotton wool pads (or perfume-testing strips, if you can get hold of some)

1. Start with one oil – it doesn’t matter which – and put a few drops on the pad.

2. Leave the fragrance to develop for a couple of minutes, then bring the pad to within an inch of your nose and breathe naturally through your nose. Don’t try too hard and inhale sharply – if you do, you’re unlikely to smell anything.

3. Move the pad away, then bring it back up to your nose and inhale again. Do this several times with the same oil.

4. Then take a break for five minutes before repeating the process with the next essential oil.

5. Aim to do the training twice a day, in the morning and evening.

Don’t be discouraged if you can’t smell anything at first. Anecdotal evidence from anosmia sufferers who’ve tried the technique suggests that it may take at least a week before you get a hint of any fragrance.

For best results, researchers recommend that you follow the smell training for six months.

Fifth Sense

If you are suffering from loss of sense of smell, become a member of Fifth Sense and you’ll have all the information you need at your fingertips about this little understood condition. The leading experts in the field share cutting-edge research – as well asking for your help with surveys and personal experiences. Fifth Sense provides support and advice to help anosmics get the best out of life and is currently working towards becoming the UK’s first registered charity supporting and facilitating research into smell and taste-related disorders. Go to www.fifthsense.org.uk

Unlimited access to a qualified GP with Saga Health Insurance - you'll have access 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to a GP consultation service. Find out more about our GP phone service.


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.