The line between a coma patient who is in a persistent vegetative state and one who is in a minimally conscious state is hard to define, and the distinction often stumps a patient’s doctors.
In fact, experts estimate that even the best diagnostic tests and imaging devices still result in a misdiagnosis rate of 40%. This has serious consequences for patient care and recovery, not to mention the effect that the lack of clarity has on the patient’s family. However, researchers now say that a simple “sniff” test is actually one of the most reliable indicators of the depth of a patient’s coma.
What’s the “sniff” test?
Essentially, it’s as basic as testing a patient’s automatic reflexes to unpleasant smells. Typically, when someone smells something rotten or otherwise unpleasant, there’s a natural tendency to breathe more shallowly than normal. That change in breathing through a coma patient’s cannula can easily be gauged.
According to the Weizmann Institute of Science researchers, a positive sniff test is a strong indicator that the patient in question is likely to eventually regain some level of consciousness. Not only is a positive sniff test simple and easy to perform, but it may be the first signal that there is hope for a patient’s recovery, occurring well before any other diagnostic indicators. Furthermore, a positive sniff test predicted which patients would survive for three years or longer after their injuries with a 92% accuracy rate.
This has huge significance for patients and their loved ones. Physicians can use the information to direct the treatment plan for a coma patient, and loved ones can use the information (good or bad) to make decisions about the victim’s future.
Regardless of the new-found diagnostic test, brain injury patients and their families are always going to be faced with a lot of complex and pressing concerns, both medical and financial. If your loved one has suffered a brain injury due to another party’s negligent or purposeful actions, it’s always wisest to learn about your available legal options in order to better gauge whether your family is entitled to compensation.