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YOUR HEALTH: The 'bad smell' from COVID

Patients who have lost their sense of smell say what returns in its place can be pretty bad

CINCINNATI — Imagine seeing flowers or chocolate and smelling gasoline or garbage instead! 

More covid patients are reporting smelling awful odors as they continue to recover. 

"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. Ahmed Sedaghat, Otolaryngologist at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.

Dr. Sedaghat says as those nerves start to heal, about one to four months after the covid 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," said Dr. Sedaghat.

How bothersome?

"They can be things like gasoline, smoke, fire, rotten food, rotten flesh." 

Dr. 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 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."

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

How was the research done?

The analysis was done of user-generated text from 9000 users of the AbScent Covid-19 Smell and Taste Loss moderated Facebook support group from March 24 to 30th September 2020.

Participants reported difficulty explaining and managing an altered sense of taste and smell, a lack of interpersonal and professional explanation or support, altered eating, appetite loss, weight change, loss of pleasure in food, eating and social engagement, altered intimacy and an altered relationship to self and others.

How is parosmia diagnosed?

Most cases of parosmia become apparent after you recover from an infection, and symptom severity can vary from case to case. 

Some symptoms include sensing a persistent foul odor, especially when food is around. 

Having difficulty recognizing or noticing some scents in your environment and finding scents that you used to find pleasant are now become overpowering and unbearable may be a sign of damage to your olfactory neurons. 

Also, if you try to eat food that smells bad to you and you feel nauseous or sick while you're eating, you may be at risk of having parosmia. 

Parosmia usually occurs after your scent-detecting neurons have been damaged due to a virus or other health condition. 

These neurons line your nose and tell your brain how to interpret the chemical information that makes up a smell. 

Damage to these types of neurons changes the way smells reach your brain.

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.

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