What a year this has been. No one could have predicted that this virus would be responsible for over 3 million deaths worldwide. We’re only beginning to understand the long-term effects of this disease. Within the world of Ear Nose and Throat medicine, we’re seeing viral effects often presenting months after the virus.
Loss of taste and smell are the first post covid symptoms we started seeing in our offices. We know that the COVID-19 virus affects nerves and since the virus first attaches itself in the nasal cavity, it makes sense that it would affect the olfactory nerves (the nerves we use to smell).
For many patients, this loss of smell and taste may be very temporary, only lasting a few days or weeks. But for some patients, this may actually last for months, or longer.
Why do we lose our sense of taste along with our sense of smell?
We all know that when are noses are blocked, such as during a cold, we can not taste food as well, and we are also less hungry.
Our sense of smell is responsible for about 80 percent of taste. When are noses are blocked, or the olfactory nerves are damaged, we our taste is limited to the five sensations, salty, bitter, sweet, sour, and savory. When our nose is open, we can experience many more flavors and sensations.
In addition to COVID-19, there are other factors which may cause your loss of sense of smell and taste including smoking, allergies, sinus infections, nasal polyps, respiratory viruses other than COVID-19, such as colds and the flu, and even tumors. It’s not uncommon for upper respiratory infections to cause a loss of smell or taste. In fact, over 60 percent of colds can lead to temporary loss of smell.
For this reason, it is very important to be checked out by an Ear Nose and Throat doctor to ensure that there are not treatable causes for the loss of smell and taste.
How do you know if you have lost your sense of smell or taste? You can use common household items to test these senses.
SMELL: Find something with a strong characteristic smell such as coffee beans or cinnamon or fresh garlic. You can also try nonfood items such as scented candles or perfumes.
TASTE: Find foods with different taste characteristics such as Sweet (Chocolate) Bitter (Coffee), Sour (Lemons or other citruses), Salty (pretzels).
If you are having trouble picking out the scents or tastes, you may be experiencing loss of smell and taste. What can you do if you lose your sense of smell and taste?
Olfactory nerves, or the smell nerves, are basically the wiring between the nose and the brain. They can be damaged by a virus, bacterial infection, trauma to the head, or even a tumor. With any injury, healing takes time. But this loss of smell and taste can be reversible. The nerves can regenerate.
Smell training is one of the ways we can try and regain our sense of smell and taste.
Smell training (olfactory training) involves sniffing four scents daily for at least twenty seconds for each scent. These should be little brief sniffs. These scents can be essential oils such as peppermint, or household herbs found around the kitchen. You are essentially retraining your smell nerves. It is helpful to use scents that you are familiar with and that won’t fade and can be stable over several months. This way, you know if your smell changes rather than the fragrance has faded away.
What if I can’t smell anything when I do the smell training?
Don’t be discouraged. It takes time. With smell training, it is not only about the smell, it is about thinking about the smell, how it made you feel, associating memories with the smell. This will engage your brain where you store your emotions and memories. It is the whole process from the tip of the nose to the brain that helps with the process.
Keep a diary and note your progress.
How long does this take? Nerves can take a long time to heal; weeks, months, or even years. No one can really predict how long it might take. It is recommended to try smell training for at least four months.
There are many theories as to how COVID 19 affects smell and taste but none of these theories have been proven. Some researchers believe the covid vaccine attaches itself to proteins on the nerves. Others believe the virus causes inflammation of the nerves. None of this has been proven as of yet.
What if I keep experiencing abnormal smells?
If you are suddenly experiencing an unpleasant smell, such as burnt rubber, you may be experiencing what is called a paranosmia. Although unpleasant, this is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, this may be a sign that nerve regeneration is occurring. It’s actually a part of the nerve repair process. Continue the smell training, and it will help you continue the regeneration process and get back to smelling normally again.
Remember to make an appointment to see your doctor so that they can make sure you don’t have something more serious interfering with your sense of smell and also can see if there is something treatable.
Your doctor may perform a nasal endoscopy in the office which is a method of putting a small camera in your nose to see further to the back. Your doctor may even order a CT scan to check for other abnormalities in the nose.
Remember to stay healthy during this process. It’s hard to eat when we are not enjoying our food. This may make you lose weight as you don’t want to eat. This may also make some people gain weight as they are trying to take in too much food or unhealthy foods in order to try and find the pleasure in eating.
Not enjoying food may also lead to negative feelings or even depression and anxiety. Not knowing if or when It will get better can be discouraging. Take care of yourself. Meditation, deep breathing, or engaging in activities you enjoy will help you maintain focus and improve your mood. Don’t be shy about asking for help. Loss of smell and taste is a significant stressor, and there are professionals who can help as well as support groups with people going through exactly what you are going through. A visit or several visits to a trained nutritionist is also a valuable adjunct to staying healthy. Your body can’t heal the nerves if it does not have all of the proper nutrients to function effectively.
Most importantly, don’t get discouraged. This may take a long time. It is recommended to start smell training as soon as possible for the best results.
If you feel you are experiencing a loss of smell or taste please call for an appointment or visit our wellness page……