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Has COVID Stolen Your Sense of Smell?

Some people insist that COVID isn't that bad. They haven't experienced long COVID! Long haulers say that the loss of a sense if smell IS bad!
Has COVID Stolen Your Sense of Smell?
Man with clothespin on nose

It looks as if we are experiencing the fifth wave of COVID-19. This darn virus is not done with us yet. We are averaging almost 100,000 new COVID cases daily. There is a 24% increase in cases over the last two weeks. And one of the most accurate and worrisome metrics—hospitalizations—is also on the rise. It won’t be long before 50 million people will have contracted COVID-19 in the US. A lingering complication for many is something called long COVID. A new article suggests that many COVID survivors will be left with an impaired sense of smell.

Anosmia: Losing Your Sense of Smell:

One of the first symptoms of COVID-19 is a change in the sense of smell and taste. When you lose your sense of smell, doctors call it “anosmia.” It may not seem like that big a deal compared to some of the other COVID complications: trouble breathing, low oxygen saturation, exhaustion, shock or stroke. Read more about long COVID at this link.

After people recover from COVID, though, they may experience a range of “long hauler” symptoms. You have probably heard about fatigue, shortness of breath, cough, brain fog, headache, rapid heart rate and dizziness upon standing. Less recognized is prolonged anosmia.

A new study published in JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery (Nov. 18, 2021) reports that between 700,000 and 1.6 million Americans are now suffering from chronic olfactory dysfunction (COD) because of a COVID-19 infection. In other words, their sense of smell is impaired.

The researchers suggest that their assessment of the number of people affected may be a gross underestimate:

“…the estimates for the incidence of acute and chronic OD [olfactory dysfunction] are derived from relatively healthier, ambulatory patients. The incidence of OD may be higher among patients who were hospitalized with SARS-CoV-2. These data suggest an emerging public health concern of OD and the urgent need for research that focuses on treating COVID-19 COD.”

What is it Like to Have Anosmia?

Losing the sense of smell can be challenging. For one thing, food no longer has the same appeal. That’s because smell and taste go together.

Kimbra had COVID and developed anosmia:

“I had a mild case of Covid 6 months ago. Since then, I lost my sense of smell for some things and acquired a sense of smell for others that aren’t there. I told my doc and was diagnosed with sinusitis. I’m about done with antibiotics and other meds, most of which I’ve been prescribed AFTER all of the symptoms have disappeared except olfactory issues.

“I’m breathing fine. I just can’t smell some things that are there and do smell some things that aren’t there. There’s no treatment for those symptoms, and doctors won’t discuss the possibility of it being related to having had Covid 6 months ago.”

Emmet describes how anosmia affected him:

“In 2009 I had a common cold and lost my sense of smell entirely. I could still taste salty, sweet and bitter. Luckily some of my sense of small has returned over time but I often have trouble enjoying food.

“I have great sympathy for anyone who has completely lost their sense of smell. It sucks big time. I’ve experienced some partial loss myself. In my case I’ve tried all kinds of supplements and I don’t think they did much.”

Zandi also caught a nasty virus:

“Many years ago, I lost my sense of smell and taste after a nasty virus. (CoV cousin?) After many tests and a jolt of steroids it remained the same. I started seeing a chiropractor who concentrated on areas that affect these senses. After a year I began to smell and taste again at about 90% normal. Eating spicy dishes during that time seemed to help, too. Losing these two senses is devastating and depressing.”

Jane describes her loss of sense of smell and taste after using Flonase:

“I had a cold last Christmas. I used Flonase for about 10 days. My sense of smell and taste both disappeared completely, whereas my sense of smell had been very acute.

“I don’t understand why ENTs and the manufacturer will not consider the possibility that Flonase caused these cases of anosmia. Recently, I have the added annoyance of having an “off” taste with many foods as well as an unpleasant smell, particularly from aerosol cans. Why was it listed as a side effect on the prescription but left off the OTC medication?”

Marilyn and Zicam:

“I lost most of my sense of smell from using Zicam. It’s been years and I still have a limited sense of smell. I’m glad we no longer live where we had a gas line coming into the house, as one day the knob on the stove burner wasn’t completely off, but I never smelled a thing. Fortunately, my husband came home.”

Tom and fluticasone:

“I use fluticasone propionate (Flonase) on a nearly regular basis. A few days ago, almost overnight (literally), I lost my sense of smell and taste – about 80 percent loss. As a test, I sniffed a bottle of dried, snipped chives, which I could always smell.

“I could not smell it at all. Food is now less appetizing. I’m without help or cure.”

Carolyn has a diminished quality of life after losing a sense of smell:

“I was prescribed Fluticasone Propionate, generic for Flonase, last December for allergies. In January I noticed a profound loss of smell and taste. I stopped using it. My sense of smell and taste have not returned. My passion is cooking and baking. I am very distressed about this. My physicians seem unaware of this side effect. It has diminished my quality of life greatly.”

The doctors writing in JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery (Nov. 18, 2021) suggest that losing a sense of smell after catching COVID-19 can be:

“…associated with decreased general quality of life, impaired food intake, inability to detect harmful gas and smoke, enhanced worries about personal hygiene, diminished social well-being, and the initiation of depressive symptoms.”

They consider this long-lasting complication of COVID as a “growing public health concern.” We agree. Share your own thoughts in the comment section below.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
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