Twenty nine volunteers who self report suffering from claustrophobia participated in a study using scent therapy to relieve symptoms associated with episodic claustrophobia. Individuals were provided an inhaling canister with randomly assigned scents and ushered towards a crowded elevator. (A simulation of a commonly experienced claustrophobic encounter) The participants smelled their assigned scent and entered the elevator. After riding the elevator for a period of time, with the option to use the inhaler throughout, each participant completed a survey about the experience. Each participant completed two separate elevator rides with two separate scents provided. A more complete survey was compiled at the end of the two rides as well as the following week with the individuals using the scent inhaler within their respective home environment. Over 75% expressed moderate or better relief of anxiety and stress which they commonly face during a claustrophobia inducing situation.

The ever-growing research on olfactory senses and behavior and our current trial suggest that scent, presented in an appealing and directed manner, provides relief/reduction to the associated feelings endured in a claustrophobic situation. Moreover, our tested scents: vanilla (previously studied) and lavender (known in consumer products for relaxation) as well as cucumber and green apple (in smaller sampling) all provided relief. Also, if you did not feel anxiety initially, the scents did not provide relief or sense of comfort to the individual. In conclusion, scent can alleviate stress and anxiety in claustrophobic patients in the face of a space confining situation.


Smelling different odors influences behavior of individuals. When we smell something appealing like the odor of home cooked bread, we often desire a piece. When we smell smoke, we seek the cause, whether it is a fire and we respond by running or a barbecue and wish to join in the eating. Healthy Brands Group investigated the use of scents in altering the aversion behavior which individuals who suffer from claustrophobia exhibit. We believe that certain scents allow people to overcome their resistance to enclosed spaces allowing these individuals to participate in their world without restrictions. The scents we used included Vanilla, Lavender, Cucumber, and Green Apple. We surveyed individuals who characterize themselves as claustrophobic and invited a group of thirty three to participate. Twenty eight individuals attended our event. We randomly divided the participants into six groups. We provide one of the four scents in a canister shaped passive inhaler which was smelled prior to and during a crowded elevator ride. Participants then disembarked from the elevator to complete a written survey. Each participant took part in two rides with two different scents, each time completing the survey. At the end of all of the crowded elevator rides, a more comprehensive survey and focus group was conducted. The participants then took their respective scent samples home to use in their normal activities of daily life. At the end of the week, another survey was submitted characterizing the usage and results each individual experienced. Overall, 92% of the respondents reported some relief in using the scent stick in the elevator and in normal daily activities.


The fragrances tested were vanilla, lavender, cucumber, and green apple produced by a leading fragrance/essential oil producer and formulator. Each aroma was diluted to 3% concentration in propylene glycol and alcohol. An (unbleached) wick was saturated with the different scents and enclosed in a ventilated canister, approximately 2 1/4 inches long and 1/2 inch in diameter. A cap covered the instrument. Assembly was performed by Wisconsin an independent FDA Level 1 approved laboratory. Each canister was unlabeled until the testing, whereas colored tabs were applied to the canisters to indicate which scent was being tested.

The participants were selected from a self reporting survey conducted through on-line social media site where people responded to an initial inquiry regarding suffering from claustrophobia. From the responses, thirty five individuals were invited to participate in the study. Thirty three accepted and were instructed to meet at the downtown establishment in Chicago, Illinois. Twenty eight participants arrived at the designated location at the stated time and instructions were provided. Each individual was divided into two identified groups which represented a pre-established, randomized assigned scent. The total number of groups was 14. Approximately five individuals were assigned per numerical group which coordinated with a particular scent. Every fourth group tried the similar scent as their first peer group.


The self reported responses after the elevator ride indicated that those who felt anxious or experienced a degree of claustrophobia in the elevator found relief with utilizing the scent filled canisters. On a scale of 1 to 5 with 1 representing extremely valuable and 5 representing no value, 27 of 29 respondents characterized the study as moderately to extremely valuable, a 93% response.

Twenty one (21) of the twenty nine (29) participants responded as feeling moderate anxiety to high anxiety before getting into the elevator. Those who tested the vanilla scent, 11 of 15 (73%) reported partial to complete reduction of claustrophobia feelings. Those who tested the lavender scent, 15 of 18 (83%) reported partial to complete reduction of claustrophobia feelings while riding the elevator. Those who tested the cucumber scent, 10 of 16 (63%) found partial to complete relief of symptoms of claustrophobia while riding the elevator. Those who tested the green apple scent, 3 of the 4 (75%) found partial to complete reduction of claustrophobia feelings in the elevator.

The immediate post elevator surveys correspond with the above findings with 43 of 57 (75%) respondents, with one survey not completed, reporting moderate or better relief with the use of the scented canister before and during their respective elevator rides.

The post study survey completed one week after the trial was consistent with the stated results as 23 of 26 completed surveys returned revealed that the individuals carried the scent canister on their person as the subjective responses were favorable to the scents which were appealing to the participant. Additionally, of note, 22 of 25 positively considered use with other stress inducing occurrences.


Our study explored whether aromatic scent of a specific nature provided relief from the anxiety and stress feelings that self-reported claustrophobic participants exhibit. We investigated using a convenient scent containing inhaler canisters to be smelled prior and during a designed crowded elevator situation. Subsequently, the participants used these scent containers at home the following week throughout their normal daily activities. The results strongly suggest that the use of these scents in the manner described provides relief to greater than 75% of the participants. The level of relief, albeit subjective, was welcomed by the study individuals.

The study investigated using four scents: Vanilla, Lavender, Cucumber and Green Apple. These scents were chosen as prior studies suggest these aromas assist in feelings of enclosure and enhance relaxation. A study by Sloan Kettering evaluated vanilla in the setting of MRI examinations. The conclusions reflected that individuals who appreciated the scent had less anxiety and diminished physiological responses to the stress associated with MRIs than controlled subjects.1 Lavender was chosen as there are many studies suggesting that such an aroma assists in the body relaxing. In addition to their soothing smell, cucumber and green apple were chosen based on studies by Dr. Allan Hirsch, who examined eight patients with impregnated masks with different odors and evaluated their response to claustrophobic events.2 He found that Green Apple provided relief to his participants.

The body of scientific evidence supporting olfactory sensation and behavioral response is ever increasing. Our study examined the use of such methods of smell and behavior to a specific situational driven event: feeling anxiety and stress related to claustrophobic situations. Our data suggests that moderate relief or better is achieved with the tested scents. Moreover, after trying their chosen scents during the week, during normal activities of daily living, the respondents maintained they achieved relief as well. This suggests that this intervention not only provides situational relief but also repetitive relief without noted attenuation.


Sloan Kettering Reference

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