Active, Attentive & Effective Representation

The sniff test and traumatic brain injuries

On Behalf of | Jun 6, 2024 | Personal Injury |

When it comes to diagnosing the severity of traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), it’s not actually as easy as people might think – especially when a patient is unconscious.

Even with all the modern diagnostic tools at doctors’ disposal, it’s very hard to determine exactly how deeply unconscious a patient actually may be. At the same time, doctors try to figure that out because that can guide their treatment choices.

This is where the sniff test comes in

The sniff test turns out to be a simple, convenient way to determine a patient’s level of consciousness, and it’s highly predictive of whether a TBI victim will eventually recover to any degree or remain in a vegetative state.

The idea behind the sniff test is that the human olfactory function is closely linked to brain health and controlled by the patient’s frontal lobe, a region that is often affected by brain injuries. Typically, the sniff test is administered by simply putting tubes of scents – some pleasant and some foul – underneath the patient’s nose and watching for changes in their breathing.

Patients who respond to foul odors by lowering their respiration rates are likely to have at least some minimal level of what doctors describe as consciousness and are far more likely to see improvements with treatment (and survive their injuries) than patients who don’t. In at least one case, this simple, non-invasive test was able to predict a patient’s return to consciousness a full two months before any other test. That’s significant when it comes to figuring out treatment options.

Traumatic brain injuries can lead to lifelong consequences for both victims and their families. If your loved one was injured due to another party’s mistakes, it can help to have specific guidance as you assess your legal options.