How to sniff? Two techniques for post-anosmics

How to sniff?

(to get a better look at the diagram, please go to the gallery section of this website)

One of my strongest memories of having my first Sniffin’ Sticks smell test was that I was not able to get the sniffing right. For this test, you are blindfolded and then presented with a series of sticks that look like felt tip pens. There are a number of sections that involve looking at your ability to identify and differentiate smells, as well as test your threshold. The technician holds the pens; you can’t touch. I found that each whiff was too short for me, and that I was barely able to get my brain to work fast enough. Imagine going to the eye doctor for a test, and you are only allowed to read the bottom line for a few seconds.

I found this extremely frustrating, and this frustration continued on subsequent tests. To me, it felt like the technician didn’t understand what I needed to give a response to the questions. On some sections of the test, you are forced to make a choice, and for instance in the test “which one of these three is the odd one out”, I felt I would be able to answer if given enough time. I just couldn’t smell fast enough.

All this got me thinking about the mechanics of sniffing. Quite a lot has been written on this subject by a scientist called Noam Sobel, but none that I am aware of that considers the subject when applied to recovering anosmics. 

I think that for those of us who have had anosmia, smell messages necessarily come in much slower. You are navigating a world where the messages have little useful information, and what is there requires some time to work out. Smell training, as I have said often enough in these pages, requires fixing your experience into your memory. Take the essential oil marked lemon, and then think-think-think about lemon. You are trying to find it, and whatever you perceive needs to be pinned down in your mind as lemon, even if this version of it is not the one you know. 

This post addresses the “think-think-think” part of the exercise. I have observed in my own use of smell training that a different kind of sniffing produces more smell information than the old normosmic way of smelling. To understand what I mean by the old way, think “what’s that smell” and then take two short sharp sniffs in. The diagram that goes with this blogpost illustrates the two post-anosmic sniff techniques that work best for me, and maybe they will work for you.

In the upper left of the diagram is a picture of a simple inhale and exhale. As you breathe in, the line goes up, exhale and the line goes down. To the right of that, two peaks demonstrate the sharp intake of a normal sniff, “what’s that smell”. The two lower diagrams illustrate my two methods of post-anosmic sniffing. On the left, a long, slow, tiny breath--so minimal as to cause almost no turbulence as the air enters the nasal passages (your nose has turbinate bones that channel the air and cause it to move during normal breathing). This kind of breath is just a smidgen above “not breathing”. You can only do it for so long, and then you need some oxygen, so to the near flat line then rises and falls, to show a normal intake and exhalation. The final diagram, lower right, is also very slow and very minimal, but involves mini sniffs and mini exhalations. Not enough to get very much oxygen, and as with the other, eventually you need to properly inhale and exhale.

I hope you will try this, and tell me how you get on. You can reach me through the contact page, or visit the Smell Training Facebook page. Thanks and good luck!