Too often when discussing COVID-19, the only concerns become the zero-sum game of survival or death. And while the death toll has been great, there’s also a sizable number of people who made it through to the other side of the coronavirus but suffered lingering, frightening side effects in its aftermath.
For between 15 and 30% of survivors, those side effects include every single meal smelling and tasting like literal garbage.
Parosmia is a disorder that causes the signals that help your brain identify smells to become mixed up, meaning things that once smelled sweet might now be unbearably terrible.
Some describe a sulfuric, rotten-egg stench permeating their senses when a scent should be pleasant.
While the loss of smell and taste has long been identified as a common symptom of COVID-19, some are discovering that those senses are horribly mangled once they fight off the infection.
“Ever since I've regained my smelling and taste back, I have smelled this smell and tasted this taste that is disgusting and I cannot figure out what it is,” said one TikTok user on the app’s Covid Parosmia Support group. “I can no longer drink some of my favorite drinks or eat some of my favorite foods.”
Usually, the condition of parosmia can be caused by an infection in the upper respiratory tract, a sinus problem, exposure to toxin, or something neurological like a head injury or Parkinson’s disease.
And now, for currently unknown reasons, COVID-19.
“Nobody knows how or why smell detection goes away,” Dr. Philip Chen, otolaryngologist at UT Health San Antonio, told the San Antonio Express-News. “They think it could be that the virus damages the nerve itself. Maybe it damages the olfactory bulb and the brain processes. Some have even suggested that the virus induces local inflammation.”
Chen said the condition can be reversed, but there’s no quick fix.
”Olfactory training has gained a lot of popularity recently,” Chen said. “It’s kind of like physical therapy training for your nose. The idea is that you just inhale essential oils gently. Usually you do four of them.
Something floral; like a rose; something that has resin, like eucalyptus; then citrus, like a lemon; then spicy, like a clove.
“You put a little bit of oils in a jar or a piece of cotton or fabric and inhale one at a time and then do the next bottle,” Chen continued. “You’re trying to train your mind on what these things smell like. This takes time but seems to work for a lot of people.” Chen said a study in Germany showed that the method has helped restore the sense of smell in about half the people who have tried it, and that it is a non-invasive treatment for those who are experiencing parosmia in the wake of COVID.