Testing soldiers’ sense of smell can help diagnose those with traumatic brain injury, a new study shows. The findings suggest that doctors in combat zones could use smell tests to help identify soldiers who require immediate brain scans, thereby improving frontline care of those with blast injuries, the researchers said. “Although it may seem far-fetched that the sense of smell can be used to identify a concealed brain injury, [impaired sense of smell] was commonly used by neurosurgeons in attempts to localize certain brain tumors prior to the use of advanced neuroimaging in the 1980s,” said study leader Dr. Michael Xydakis, an Air Force colonel and associate professor of surgery in the School of Medicine at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, in Bethesda, Md.
The study included 231 members of the U.S. military with combat injuries who were patients at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. They were evaluated for traumatic brain injuryand had their sense of smell tested. All of those with irregular results on the smell test had abnormalities on brain scans, according to the findings published online recently in the journal Neurology.