COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Months after contracting COVID-19, some survivors are telling doctors that everything smells disgusting, they can’t taste food correctly, or they can’t identify common scents.
Minka Schofield, MD, who’s an Associate Professor and an ear, nose, and throat specialist at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, said problems can range from all smells smelling like garlic, or cigarette smoke — even feces [phantosmia] — to a person’s total loss of smell [anosmia} and with it, the sense of taste.
“If you can’t smell coffee we would call that perhaps a loss of smell, especially if you’re not smelling other items as well,” Schofield said. “This has been a more common complaint that we’re finding in patients that have had the COVID infection.”
Unfortunately, treatment options are pretty limited for people who experience smell loss.
“Oftentimes we will try steroid therapy, but there is really no consistent evidence that steroid therapy is effective particularly in COVID infection,” Schofield said. “But it is worth trying, whether that’s via a pill or a nasal spray.”
Train your brain to re-smell
One treatment Schofield recommends is olfactory training, which teaches the nose and brain to learn to smell again. Some post-COVID sufferers also have problems identifying smells [parosmia].
“It’s basically a technique where you’re trying to remind your brain, for example, what does a lemon smell like, or what does coffee smell like while you are smelling the object,” she said. “You’re reminding yourself what it smells like, to try to re-train the brain into recognizing the scent.”
Some people lose their sense of taste, too.
“In order to appreciate the flavor of food, you have to be able to smell,” Schofield said. “When people are losing their sense of smell, they are also finding they are losing their sense of taste.”
Studies show that it can take months before smell and taste recover.
When everything smells like garlic
“The other problem that I’m finding is phantosmia, which is: ‘Why do I smell smoke? I’m smelling cigarette smoke constantly,’ or, ‘I’m smelling feces constantly and it’s not there,'” she said. “I have one patient who complains of a garlic smell constantly, knowing that it’s not there. Those are the things that are happening most often.
“For some patients, it’s not even constant, it comes and goes,” Schofield continued. “It can be there Monday, and Tuesday it’s not there. But then you have some patients where it’s constant, it’s all the time, no matter what this is what they’re smelling.
Depression, loss of appetite can follow
“And as you can imagine, this can negatively impact your quality of life, leading to anxiety, depression, things of that nature, as well as weight loss because of a loss of appetite,” Schofield said.
If you’ve found your sense of smell has been lost, distorted, or altered following COVID-19, let you doctor know, particularly if it’s causing you distress.