ST. LOUIS, Missouri – Patrick Leahy has a new appreciation for stopping to smell the flowers.
"Once you lose anything, then you realize, you know, what you've lost."
After a simple viral infection, Leahy lost his sense of smell.
Luckily, he found Otolaryngologist Dr. Jay Piccirillo at Washington University in St. Louis.
"We think a lot of people have this condition, but they don't seek medical care."
According to the National Institutes of Health, about one in eight Americans over age 40 has measurable smell dysfunction.
Aging is one cause of of an inability to use the sense of smell.
It can happen to anyone at any age from things like injuries or even as a result of a virus like the common cold.
And there are no surefire treatment options. But some doctors think they can re-train the brain to recover at least some, if not all, of what`s lost.
People can lose their sense of smell after an injury or with aging, but for some, it results from a viral infection like the common cold.
"We think the nerve of smell that enters from the brain into the nose has in one way or another been injured by the virus," said Dr. Piccirillo.
In an attempt to re-train the brain to smell again, Dr. Piccirillo gave patients four essential oils to smell twice a day for 12 weeks.
"Through brain training, through smelling these smells, we're trying to, again, get the brain neurons to come back and to allow them to smell."
To track progress, patients were asked to identify a variety of odors using simple sniff tests.
"Potentially a big payoff for little investment in time and effort, you bet, and doesn't cost a whole lot either," explained Dr. Piccirillo.
NEW RESEARCH: Dr. Jay Piccirillo further explained that his researchers are "looking at whether or not something called olfactory training, which is smelling certain odors, essential oils, on a regular daily basis can help retrain the brain to learn about those smells again." People who have lost their sense of smell following a cold or a virus are enrolled in the trial and asked to smell four different essential oils every day. He added "We're looking to see if the brain can retrain itself.'
Patrick's sense of smell improved from 30% to 70%.
"They've both come back dramatically, smell and taste."
Patrick is still smelling the oils every day even though the study is over.
Dr. Piccirillo says patients can easily do this at home.
If you think you have trouble smelling, he says there's no harm in trying it yourself. The oils used in the study were rose, lemon, eucalyptus and clove but he says you can tailor it to what works for you.
If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at firstname.lastname@example.org or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at email@example.com.