Smell & Long Covid
Loss of smell may be one of the strangest and most frequent COVID symptoms. According to a new study published last month, 85.9 percent of people with mild COVID cases experience some form of olfactory dysfunction, the reduced or distorted ability to smell during sniffing or eating. Anosmia is when a person cannot smell anything at all, hyposmia is when someone’s smell is partially lost, and parosmia and phantosmia is when a person smells things that are not there. 25 percent of people who were infected with COVID experience loss of smell for over 60 days. Many people who have recovered from COVID months ago are still suffering from anosmia, hyposmia, or/and phantosmia, making these symptoms of Long COVID.
While some people may not believe that these symptoms of Long COVID are very important, loss of smell can be much more serious than being unable to smell your favorite flowers and perfumes. Our sense of smell alerts us of our surroundings. Being able to smell gas, fire, and smoke is very important, and not being able to could be a safety hazard. Not smelling foods and drinks can be dangerous- we use our sense of smell to tell when something we are going to consume is rotten. By not having the ability to smell your foods and drinks, the chances of food poisoning or consuming a dangerous substance increase. Phantosmia and parosmia can make foods smell very unpleasant, making it very difficult for people to eat without getting nauseous or throwing up. According to Dr. Sindwani, otolaryngologist (ears, nose, and throat doctor) “Smell and taste go hand in hand, and there’s this complex interaction between experience, emotion, memory, smell and taste”, and some patients suffering from a loss of smell are developing anxiety and depression due to this interference between emotional memory, experience, and smell.
The reasons of anosmia, hyposmia, and parosmia and phantosmia due to COVID is still unknown because there is very limited research. However, Dr. Sindwani explains that loss of smell has happened with other viral infections, even with the common cold.
Is there a cure for loss of smell? Dr. Sindwani explains that mouth and nasal steroids may work in regaining sense of smell, “Data is lacking on this, but the thought is that these steroids can reduce inflammation in parts of the nasal cavity or in these smell receptors which are inflamed,”. Dr. Sindwani also shared that there is current research suggesting that omega-3 fatty acids can help regain sense of smell. Omega-3 fatty acids also help with other symptoms of Long COVID, such as anxiety and fatigue.
Olfactory training is another method to regain your sense of smell due to a virus, including COVID. Primary odors are used to retrain your nose to smell again through your memory and experience. The primary smells include flowery, fruity, aromatic, and resinous. Using essential oils, you can deeply inhale and try to smell each scent for 15-20 seconds. While inhaling, you are to picture what you are smelling while trying to remember what it smells like. For example, if you were using lavender as the aromatic smell, you would inhale it deeply for 15-20 seconds, and picture lavender in your head and remember the image and scent of it. This process is to be done two to three times a day, every day.
Some tips for dealing with parosmia and phantosmia during mealtimes are to eat room temperature or cool foods, avoid fried foods, roasted meats, onions, garlic, eggs, coffee, and chocolate, eat bland foods, such as rice, noodles, untoasted breads, steamed vegetables, and plain yogurt. If you are unable to eat without vomiting, unflavored protein shakes are packed with calories and tend to be odorless, making them a good addition to your diet. Ordering your groceries online when possible is also suggested to avoid smelling trigger foods.
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Gilmerm. “What to Know About Losing Your Sense of Smell and How It Relates to COVID-19.” Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic, Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic, 21 Jan. 2021, health.clevelandclinic.org/lose-sense-of-smell-covid-19-anosmia/.
Lechien, J. R., et al. “Prevalence and 6‐Month Recovery of Olfactory Dysfunction: a Multicentre Study of 1363 COVID‐19 Patients.” Journal of Internal Medicine, 2021, doi:10.1111/joim.13209.
“NoseWell.” AbScent, abscent.org/nosewell/parosmia.