Can a simple sniff test predict a coma patient’s recovery?

When someone has been in an accident and they’re in a coma, the first thing that their loved ones want to know is, “What are the chances of recovery?”

While the Glasgow Coma Scale has long been used to assess a patient’s true level of consciousness, the reality is that even the most modern brain imaging scans and other testing allowed doctors to make – at best – an educated guess.

Recently, however, doctors have discovered a much more reliable indicator that someone in a coma will or will not regain consciousness: a sniff test.

What’s the sniff test?

Essentially, all doctors do is expose the unconscious patient to two different smells – one repugnant and one pleasant – and measure their breathing and any other autonomic reactions in response. A measurable response to the noxious scent, however, is now seen as a sure indicator that the patient will at least regain minimal consciousness.

While the test does produce a few “false negatives” (where the patient doesn’t react to the negative scent and still recovers), the rate of “false positives” is zero.

For families and doctors alike, this is a big step forward since the results of the sniff test can help direct treatment for patients who are likely to recover. When patients don’t react to the sniff test, this can help families begin to accept the situation.

When your loved one has been left in a coma due to the negligence or willful actions of another person, you need to find out more about your legal options. Whatever happens, their care will be complicated and expensive. Therefore, compensation is needed to provide them with best care and chances of recovery.