TORONTO – Experts say loss of smell is one of the most common symptoms of COVID-19 and can be a frustrating experience, especially for long-haul travelers. But two Canadian entrepreneurs have developed an odor recovery program to help patients regain meaning.

Sniffly Smell Training Program launched in early July and since then, the founders of the company say they have seen more than 1,000 listings, mostly referrals from doctors.

Sniffly co-founders Bobby Rasouli and Armin Faraji both struggled to lose their sense of smell after testing positive for COVID-19 last year.

“It was a really tough experience for me,” Rasouli told CTVNews.ca in an interview with Zoom Thursday. “When I started to study it and research it, I realized that there were options and that there were things that could be done at home, therapeutically.”

A data review involving more than 8,400 people with COVID-19, published in June 2020, 41% saw some kind of loss of smell.

While most eventually regain their ability to smell, a European study from January found that about five percent of the more than 2,500 COVID-19 patients studied continued to experience compromised sense of smell after six months.

Smell training, or olfactory training, was first developed by a German scent researcher Thomas Hummel in a 2009 study. It’s about training the human body’s olfactory system to strengthen the sense of smell, according to Hummel.

After reading Hummel’s article and learning the scent training, Rasouli, who had recently graduated from medicine in the UK, tried and started to see improvements.

“My smell and taste slowly started to return about a month after my COVID infection, but using the smell therapy I was actually able to be 100% maybe three weeks later,” he said. said Rasouli.

Rasouli partnered with Faraji, who has a background in marketing and previous experience creating online courses, to create Sniffly and share their knowledge on scent training with the public.

“We just realized that we could essentially take the lessons we learned from Bob’s medical research and the journals he consulted, and apply them to creating a virtual program that anyone can access.” , Faraji said Thursday. in a Zoom interview with CTVNews.ca.


Sniffly is structured as a free online course consisting of 17 videos. In the videos, Rasouli explains the mechanisms behind the olfactory system and talks about the science behind olfactory training as a way to “take some of the weight off family physicians”.

“We’ve tried to create a platform that educates, so that’s the first thing we aim to do. We give a breakdown of the basic anatomy and physiology involved in smell and taste,” Rasouli said.

The smell training itself involves smelling four different types of essential oils – rose, eucalyptus, lemon, and clove. These are the four scents identified by Hummel in 2009. Sniffly participants are asked to smell each essential oil for five seconds for a series of three times, repeated twice a day.

In this screenshot from one of the Sniffly videos, Rasouli shows how to smell essential oils for learning to smell. (Armin Faraji / Sniffly)

However, it can take months for participants to notice improvements, Faraji explained.

“I have been training to smell for about seven months and the progress has been slow, but I have been able to measure the impact and see the improvements noticeably,” he said.

“We have heard from patients who have had improvements after four to six months of smell training.”

The scientific theory behind smell training is based on neuroplasticity, which refers to the brain and nervous system’s ability to strengthen smell by forming networks and making new connections. Rasouli says smell training targets the olfactory bulb, which is the structure of nerves that creates the sense of smell for humans.

“The general consensus is that, thanks to inflammatory damage to the olfactory bulb, your sense of smell and, by extension, your sense of taste is reduced. And therefore, our goal is to regenerate these nerves,” said Rasouli.

Rasouli likens smell training to training a muscle to make it stronger or readjust after an injury.

While there is a scientific theory behind scent formation, Dr. Jay Piccirillo, an ear, nose and throat specialist at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri, says its effectiveness is still not not clear.

“The theory of neuroplasticity is well accepted. As for its application as scent training, the jury is out,” Piccirillo told CTVNews.ca in a Zoom interview on Wednesday.


Learning to smell has shown promising results in a few studies conducted before the COVID-19 pandemic. In Hummel’s study, 10 of 36 participants (28 percent) who took smell training showed improvements. This result was compared to a group of 16 participants who had not taken smell training where only one participant (six percent) of this group naturally recovered their ability to smell.

In other study by German researchers in 2013, 18 of 70 participants (26%) who took scent training with a high concentration of odors saw improvements in smell, compared to 11 of 74 participants (15%) who took the training with a low odor concentration. concentration of odors.

However, Piccirillo notes that a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial has yet to be conducted, leaving many questions unanswered about the technique.

“We have a lot of people… who, after going through scent training, say their scent has improved. Well, how much of a natural recovery is that? How well could that have happened just by sniffing cotton without essential oil on it? Said Piccirillo.

Rasouli acknowledges that there isn’t enough research to definitively say that smell training will work for everyone.

“In terms of giving patients a ‘yes, that will help you’ final, more research needs to be done,” he said.

Piccirillo and his research team also studied the effectiveness of olfactory formation. They investigated whether using different scents beyond the four identified by Hummel, as well as whether looking at an image of the object they smell while doing scent training, can improve results.

The study is currently in clinical trials and Piccirillo expects to see results within a month.

“We will be evaluating everyone’s performance with a test to identify scratching and sniffing odors, as well as questionnaires on the extent of the changes felt,” Piccirillo said. “This is our trial.”

Despite inconclusive data, Piccirillo says people facing loss of smell from COVID-19 should still try smell training, since there are no downsides.

“It’s not very expensive to do. It doesn’t take a lot of time. It’s not going to hurt. And we really don’t have anything else for these patients,” Piccirillo said.



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