It’s been nearly a year since Natalia Cano got COVID, but she still posts regular TikTok videosLearn more about her experiences. It’s far from over for her.
That’s because Cano, 20, has developed parosmia, a post-COVID condition that can make once-pleasant foods and scents smell and taste disgusting. Consider sewage, smoke or garbage.
Cano finds coffee nauseating. Water taste strangely chemical-like. Autumn air smells like trash
“Nothing makes sense. It’s completely arbitrary,” Cano said in a TikTok video She is seen trying to eat a Clif Bar to ensure she has enough calories and protein.
She’s not the only person sharing experiences with post-COVID parosmia on social media. And her lingering symptoms aren’t particularly rare, it seems.
“I wouldn’t hang my hat on any number that’s been put out yet,” said Ahmad Sedaghat, director of the University of Cincinnati division of rhinology, allergy and anterior skull base surgery, of attempts to quantify how common this condition is among people who’ve had COVID. “But I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s 15 to 20%.”
The connection between parosmia and COVID
Parosmia occurs when a person’s olfactory nerves are damaged, ultimately changing how smells reach the brain. This virus has also been associated with COVID and other viruses.
But it makes sense that there appears to be a particular connection to the coronavirus because of how often it impacts infected people’s sense of smell. Estimates range from 50% and 75% of those COVID patients may lose the sense of smell or taste. This is likely due to damage to their olfactory nerves and other cells.
It is good to know that most people will regain their taste buds and sense of smell in less than four weeks. However, for some people the process can take longer. For some people, things can go horribly wrong.
“We think [parosmia] happens as part of the recovery process to injure one’s sense of smell,” Sedaghat explained. As the damaged nerves and cells regrow and regenerate, there can be some “miswiring,” he said.
Sedaghat has treated patients suffering from post-COVID parasmia and believes that the snarling wiring may have a protective function. Because disgust is able to protect against infection, it can be used as a defense mechanism. The brain and olfactory senses may work together to keep the body safe.
It’s just a theory at this point, “but it makes sense,” Sedaghat argued. “It’s consistent with what we know about evolutionary mechanisms.”
“For the people who are experiencing this, it can be a real, very serious change in how they’re relating to their own body.”
Parosmia: How to get help
Up to now, there have only been a handful of studiesOn parosmia, COVID many people such as Cano turned to social media for answers and to share their stories. The internet also offers some potential (and not proven) treatment options, such as eating a burnt orangeRestore the senses of smell
There are some treatment options that can be used to treat parosmia based on evidence. Smell trainingSedaghat stated that this is the best option for those who have lost their sense of smell over a period of months or suffer from any other condition. It can also be quite complicated.
The specific approach differs from person-to-person and from provider-to-provider, but the general idea is that people are asked to sniff particular odors (things like lemon, coffee, honey and more) for 20-ish seconds, several times over the course of several months. Next, the participants try to visualize what that smelled or tasted like.
“It’s a rigorous process,” Sedaghat said. Sedaghat encourages his patients to discover smells and tastes they used to enjoy.
“My coffee smells bad? Don’t avoid it, because if you avoid it that connection can become permanent,” Sedaghat said. “While things are still plastic, I want patients to expose themselves to the things that are unpleasant.”
Of course, if your once-beloved morning coffee now smells like sewage to you, that’s easier said than done. Parosmia is a difficult emotional condition to deal with.
“Those kind of fundamental changes in how your body is functioning for you can be really disruptive ― functionally, emotionally, socially and in terms of vocation,” said Abigail Hardin, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Rush Medical College in Chicago who works with long-haul COVID patients. “For the people who are experiencing this, it can be a real, very serious change in how they’re relating to their own body.”
Hardin suggested that people who are struggling to cope with changes in their senses, such as taste or smell, might find help from mental health professionals. These specialists focus on chronic and hearing-loss patients.
Sedaghat said the patients he’s worked with are heartened to at least get an explanation for what’s going on in their olfactory system and brain. They’re also relieved to know that parosmia, while absolutely devastating, is a sign that their brain and body are trying to recover after the virus. “It tells us regeneration is happening,” Sedaghat said.
However, some individuals with parosmia may still be able to work. may never get back to normal. There’s simply too little known about long-COVID and its symptoms at this point to say.
Mental health experts like Hardin believe it’s true that healing can be helped simply by having a name for something as jarring and potentially traumatic as parosmia.
“When you’re able to have a diagnosis or name something, it does help alleviate a bit of the emotional pain associated with it,” Hardin said. “But that is then not sufficient. There’s more we need to do to help people cope long-term with this symptom that they may not know how long it will take to go away.”
COVID-19 remains a mystery to experts. Information in this article is current and accurate as it was published. Scientists may discover new information about COVID-19. Thank you check the Centers for Disease Control and PreventionGet the most recent recommendations.