Regaining Sense of Smell After COVID-19 is Often Difficult and Unpleasant

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Researchers are still learning more about the long-term effects of COVID-19. Some people lost their sense of smell after the infection and researchers say for some, regaining that sense was an unpleasant experience.

Many patients recovering from COVID-19 say they’re always fatigued, or they have chest pains and memory problems and now, more people are reporting problems with their sense of smell.

“The virus that causes COVID-19 seems to have a predilection for infecting the cells that live near the smell nerves and subsequently causing secondary injury or even the death of smell nerves,” said Dr. Ahmad Sedaghat and Otolaryngologist at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.

Sedaghat says as those nerves start to heal, about one to four months after the COVID-19 infection, many patients are complaining of a condition called parosmia, a strange distortion of smell.

“The changes to the sense of smell are typically quite bothersome. They can be things like gasoline, smoke, fire, rotten food, rotten flesh,” said Sedaghat.

Sedaghat says anywhere from 15% to 50% of all patients who lost their sense of smell may experience parosmia as the nerves in their noses start to regenerate. He says the best treatment for parosmia is a type of therapy for the nose, called olfactory training.

“Which has been described as essentially practicing smelling concentrated odors to essentially stimulate your smell nerves,” said Sedaghat.

Regaining a normal sense of smell usually takes several months for most patients.

Sedaghat says there is no surgery or medication for the condition, so retraining is the best avenue for patients working to regain their sense of smell. 

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