What is smell training and does it really work?

Our sense of smell plays a significant role in our daily lives, yet it's often taken for granted until it's lost, as has been the case recently for so many Covid sufferers.

The good news is that emerging scientific research suggests that retraining your brain can help you regain your sense of smell.

The Science of Smell: How Does It Work?

Our olfactory system, responsible for detecting odors, consists of millions of specialized cells in the nasal cavity called olfactory receptors. These receptors send signals to the brain's olfactory bulb, which processes and identifies various smells.

When the Sense of Smell Fades

Several factors can lead to the loss of the sense of smell, known as anosmia. Common causes include sinus infections, head injuries, aging, or viral illnesses like COVID-19. When these factors damage or impair the olfactory receptors or their connections to the brain, our sense of smell can diminish or disappear.

The Neuroplasticity Solution

The exciting breakthrough lies in neuroplasticity, the brain's ability to reorganize and adapt. Researchers have found that the olfactory system possesses an impressive level of plasticity, making it possible to retrain the brain and recover lost olfactory function.

Retraining Your Brain: How Does It Work?

  1. Sensory Exposure: The first step in retraining your sense of smell is consistent exposure to various scents. Start with familiar and simple odours like citrus fruits, coffee, herbs or essential oils.

  2. Sensory Discrimination: Gradually work on differentiating between scents. Blindfold yourself and try to identify various odours correctly. This helps sharpen your olfactory recognition skills.

  3. Memory Recall: Engage in scent memory exercises. Try to recall and describe the smell of specific items or places from your past. This helps your brain strengthen its connections between scent and memory.

  4. Pattern Recognition: Challenge your brain by smelling and identifying more complex scents, such as blended essential oils. The more you practice, the better your brain becomes at recognizing and distinguishing between various odors.

  5. Persistence and Patience: Neuroplasticity takes time, so be patient with yourself. Consistent practice and repetition are key to success in retraining your sense of smell.

Scientific Backing

Recent studies support the concept of retraining the sense of smell through neuroplasticity. For example, a study published in the journal "Neuron" in 2020 demonstrated that olfactory training improved the sense of smell in people with post-viral anosmia, including those affected by COVID-19. This research highlighted the brain's ability to recover and adapt, even after significant olfactory loss.

Additionally, neuroimaging studies have shown that the brain regions responsible for olfaction can rewire themselves with training, providing further evidence of the brain's remarkable plasticity.


Retraining your brain to regain your sense of smell is not only possible but also backed by scientific research. By consistently exposing yourself to various scents, improving your scent discrimination, and engaging in scent memory exercises, you can enhance your olfactory abilities and savour the rich world of aromas once again. 

September 18, 2023 — Kim Brookes