How Can I Get My Sense of Smell back?

By: Dr. Daniel Larson, MD
Southwest Ohio ENT Specialists

If your loss of smell (anosmia) or significant reduction in smell (hyposmia) is determined to be chronic, this may be due to direct damage to the nerves that sense smell in the nose. If after being evaluated by your ENT doctor it is determined that surgery or medicine will not improve your sense of smell, then Smell Retraining Therapy (SRT) may be an option.

What is Smell Retraining Therapy (SRT)?

SRT sounds a little silly, but there is real research to show that it can improve your sense of smell if performed correctly. SRT was developed by Dr. Hummel, in 2009 as a way of reconnecting damaged nerve receptors in your nose to the part of the brain that processes smell. It does not work for every patient or usually restore 100% of smell. But, his studies have shown that patients who complete SRT for 12-36 weeks have significantly improved senses of smell (olfaction) compared to patients who did nothing (control). Patients who did better tended to be younger patients who began therapy sooner after losing their smell.

TDI olfaction score change

Credit: Jim Boardman

How do I begin Smell Retraining therapy?

Simply put, SRT involves smelling very pure forms of a smell (usually from an essential oil) multiple times per day while focusing on what that item should smell like. There are several modifications of smell therapy that have been studied. The most simple protocol involves 4 types of essential oils from the 4 “smell families.”

  1. Buy your 4 essential oils (can find online, at the pharmacy or natural food store)
    1. Rose (floral smell)
    2. Eucalyptus (resinous smell)
    3. Cloves (spicy smell)
    4. Lemon (fruity smell)
  2. Perform focused “smell training” at least 2 times per day (the more the better)
    • Choose a quite location free from other strong smells (ex: bedroom or parked car)
    • Open each container one at a time and take a few slow, deep breaths in through your nose for 20 seconds. As you are breathing, concentrate on your memory of that smell.
    • Close that container and clear the air by taking a few deep breaths or moving around.
    • Repeat for all smells.
    • Do this daily for at least 12 weeks.

A modification of this protocol (studied in 2015 by Dr. Hummel et al.) involved using more smells (12) for a long period of time (36 weeks) showed improved results.

  1. Use the classical 4 smells for 12 week (rose, eucalyptus, lemon and clove)
  2. Use 4 new smells for weeks 12 – 24 (menthol, tyme, tangerine and jasmine)
  3. Use 4 different smells for weeks 24 – 36 (green tea, rosemary, bergamot, gardenia)

I do not think that the exact smells are as important as choosing a variety of smells that you are familiar with, or even better, that elicit an emotional response. For example: If pine reminds you of Christmas and that makes you happy, then use that. If you cannot find an essential oil for a particular smell, then take that smell item (fresh coffee grounds for example) and put it in a small jar with a tight-fitting lid, and use that for your training. ( is a great source of further information.

To make an appointment to further discuss your symptoms visit

Skip to content