COVID-19 patients turn to smell training for recovery of senses

Many COVID-19 patients who have recovered are still struggling with a loss of taste and smell.

A technique called “smell training” has brought back the sense for some of those people, and you can even do it from the comfort of your own home.

For Brian Ox, 2021 started off with him contracting the coronavirus.

“It hit me like a freight train,” Ox explained. “It came from just a little bit of a fever to the next day, it was 102-degree fever, and then the body aches came.”

He lost his sense of smell, and of course with that, his sense of taste.

“That only lasted about four to five days – a long four to five days,” Ox said.

Eventually, Ox’s symptoms faded but that’s when a new one popped up.

“It literally smelled like somebody was standing right behind me smoking a cigarette,” he said. “It would never cease. It was every waking hour.”

Dr. John Brooks is a medical epidemiologist with the CDC. He said, “The loss of smell or change in smell is an often overlooked but surprisingly common problem among people.”

Brooks supports smell therapy as a solution for people like Ox.

“Smell training. Interesting therapy but it really works. And I really want to raise people’s awareness around that because the earlier you can begin smell training, the better the chances that you’ll recover your sense of smell.” he added.

Several research studies back Dr. Brooks’ thinking.

MORE: Position paper on olfactory dysfunction

MORE: Treatment of post-viral olfactory dysfunction

One published in the journal The Laryngoscope followed 153 patients with smell disorders stemming from viral infections.

For about 25 weeks, patients smelled four different odors twice a day for 15 seconds each.

Researchers found that the training helped patients recover their ability to identify and discriminate against different smells.

Dr. Justin Turner, with the Smell and Taste Center at Vanderbilt University, said the smells don’t necessarily have to be pungent, “Actually, many of the smells that we utilize are pleasant, so it’s sort of flowery and resinous type smells.”

Even without smell therapy, Ox said after six long months he’s seen improvement. “I don’t know what causes it or why it’s going away. I’m just glad it’s going away.”

More studies to understand the effectiveness of smell therapy for long-haul COVID-19 patients are underway. And steroids have also been found to help some patients by reducing inflammation.

Reporter:Veronica Marshall
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