Some COVID-19 survivors experiencing unpleasant smells

Some COVID-19 survivors can’t seem to get rid of lingering, awful smells that aren’t even there.

“Long-haulers” are smelling smoke, rotten vegetables, even feces, and it may be a while before it stops – if it does.

Even though everyone in Mary Heid’s family came down with COVID-19, she’s the only one to go through this.

“I said, ‘Do you all smell smoke?’ No. And so I got up and I looked all over the house, because it was kind of scary, I thought something was on fire.”

Heid’s new symptom: phantosmia, meaning she smells things that aren’t actually there.

“It does kind of alarm me because if I think if something really was burning, that I would just ignore it.”

Other common post-COVID phantom smells include vinegar, strong chemicals, and garbage.

Why does this happen? Researchers aren’t sure, but they’re trying to figure it out.

“The cells in your nose that are normally responding to odors, which are specialized nerve cells, are somehow not functioning properly and sending an incorrect signal back to the brain,” said Dr. Steven Munger, the director of the University of Florida Center for Smell and Taste.

Another idea is that your brain isn’t getting any signals from your nose, so it’s filling in the gaps. When it comes to treatment options, experts say don’t hold your breath.

“There’s no really specific good treatment,” said Dr. Sachiko Koyama, an associate scientist in anatomy and cell biology with the Medical Sciences program at Indiana University – Bloomington.

They hope to have more answers in the future.

“With COVID-19, and the attention towards smell and taste, that definitely increased quite a lot. So we’re taking the opportunity of better understanding how it works,” said Valentina Parma, a research assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at Temple University.

For now, Heid may just have to wait.

“I just want it to be out of my body; get out!” she said.

When it comes to how long phantosmia can last, it depends on the patient. It could be days, months, years, or permanent.

Volunteer for a phantosmia study if you’re experiencing symptoms
The Smell and Taste Association of North America (with support groups)
Fifth Sense (with support groups)

Reporter:Veronica Marshall
Writer:Jackie Winchester
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