Traumatic Brain Injury Coma Patients May Recover if They Respond to a Sniff Test

Oct 26, 2020

Brooks Schuelke, Esq.
Schuelke Law PLLC

Austin, TX (Law Firm Newswire) October 26, 2020 – While science is on the forefront of working to find ways to combat traumatic brain injury (TBI), medical professionals are working with TBI patients, some of which are in a coma. Will they regain consciousness or not?

If a patient has a severe head injury, they may drift into a comatose state. Most comas last approximately 2 weeks and the patient either wakes up and improves, deteriorates and dies or is diagnosed as being in a vegetative state. A vegetative state indicates a patient whose eyes open spontaneously but there is no awareness of surroundings or themselves. Conversely, if a TBI coma patient shows minimal awareness they are classified as being in a minimally conscious state.

The usual diagnostic tool used to assess a TBI patient’s level of consciousness is referred to as the Coma Recovery Scale (CRS). The CRS measures responses to eye movements, pain response, tracking sound and tracking an object. However, the CRS has a 40 percent rate of diagnostic errors.

According to a recent study from the Loewenstein Rehabilitation Hospital in Israel, if an unconscious brain-injured patient responds to smell through a slight change in their breathing, they are likely to regain consciousness. The study’s findings suggest that 100 percent of the patients that did respond to a “sniff test” returned to consciousness during the duration of the four-year study.

This newest sniff test functions on the principle that nasal airflow changes unconsciously in response to an odor, whether the person is awake or asleep. An example would be the short, shallow breaths we take when our nose detects an offensive odor.

The study included 43 TBI patients who were randomly tested at least ten times in varying order with the scents of rotten fish, a nice shampoo and a control of no scent. TBI patients considered to be in a vegetative state responded to the test and later did regain consciousness. The study findings suggest that the sniff test is the first sign that a patient is going to recover, and, in some instances, it was seen weeks to months before other signs began to manifest.

This simple, yet inexpensive sniff test can be done at a patient’s bedside, does not require complex machinery and the patient does not need to be moved. This new tool may open other doors to help comatose TBI patients.

To learn more about traumatic brain injuries visit

Schuelke Law PLLC
3011 N. Lamar Blvd
Ste. 200
Austin, TX 78705
Call (512) 476-4944

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