One of the most unique symptoms that can come from the COVID virus is the loss of smell. For a lot of people, they regain normal sense of smell and taste after recovering from COVID. However, some people develop something called parosmia after COVID. The symptoms of this condition can be unpleasant and, in some cases, long-lasting. If you’ve had COVID-19, here’s how parosmia might affect you.
What Is Parosmia?
Parosmia is a condition that can occur as a result of tumors, upper respiratory infections, and many other health complications. This includes COVID-19.
Parosmia can be defined as a distorted sense of smell. What this means is that people cannot perceive certain scents as they normally would. Rather, normal things, such as food, smell unpleasant. For instance, coffee could instead smell like something rotten. Other normally pleasant scents might smell like garbage. Some scents can even be perceived as chemical or similar to ammonia.
This condition can be really disruptive. Not only does it make it hard to smell things normally but it can also impact taste. Moreover, it might prevent people from detecting dangerous scents like smoke. Parosmia often results in people having a hard time eating, as the distorted smells and tastes can lead to nausea. Some people with parosmia report having more anxiety because they cannot distinguish pleasant versus unpleasant scents.
In many cases, parosmia goes away after the infection clears or shortly thereafter. However, when it comes to parosmia that’s triggered by COVID-19, the symptoms can remain for some time.
How Long Does Parosmia After COVID Last?
Having a COVID-19 infection is more than just a temporary issue. People are discovering that COVID has long-lasting consequences and have even coined a term for the symptoms that linger after the infection has gone: Long COVID.
Long COVID can have a serious impact on one’s ability to function. In many cases, the symptoms of long COVID cannot be predicted or prevented. These symptoms could include:
- Gastrointestinal trouble (vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, etc.)
- Brain fog
- Loss of taste and/or sense of smell
Many people who had a loss of smell when they had COVID-19 regained their sense of smell. However, this then morphed into parosmia.
Research is still developing on how long parosmia after COVID can last. From what experts know right now, the longevity of parosmia varies depending on the person. Certain factors, such as sex, age, and the severity of the COVID infection, can contribute to a person’s experiences with parosmia.
Can Parosmia After COVID Be Treated?
As mentioned earlier, parosmia fades away after a little bit of time for many people. For the people who aren’t so lucky, there are certain treatment approaches that can help to reduce the severity of parosmia symptoms. Some of these treatments would be:
- Medications—While there is no particular medication that is manufactured to help with parosmia after COVID, experts have found that different types of medications may be effective in reversing the effects of parosmia. One option would be a steroid nasal spray. This can often clear the nasal passages, decrease inflammation, and reset someone’s ability to smell. Another option that comes with a few more risks would be medications that affect the nerves. People who have chronic pain and/or nerve pain might use these types of medications to help slow down pain signals from reaching the brain. Similarly, these medications might be able to help the brain reprocess scents because the nerves aren’t firing information off as quickly. Of course, it’s important to talk to your doctor about any and all medication changes to best keep yourself safe while also working to treat the symptoms.
- Olfactory retraining—The term “olfactory” refers to the nose and the sense of smell. With olfactory retraining, people try to bring back their normal sense of smell by trying to remember what they are supposed to be smelling (i.e., chocolate) rather than what they actually are smelling (i.e., rotten eggs). This involves smelling a lot of foods that trigger parosmia but pulling on memories and descriptions of what the foods should smell like in order to retrain and reset the brain. More scents are slowly introduced over the course of approximately 6 weeks. This can be extremely effective for some people who are struggling with parosmia after COVID.
- Diet change—For a lot of people, keeping the symptoms of parosmia at bay involves a diet change. Foods that are relatively bland, safe, and free of strong scents often do not trigger parosmia and can therefore be safe for patients to eat. Following a diet that’s good for IBS flare ups is a helpful guide for this. Furthermore, it could help to keep food cold or at room temperature so as not to release too many strong odors into the air.
Though there is not one “cure all” for parosmia, these different strategies can help somebody to at least better manage the frustrating symptoms of parosmia. Remember, too, that the effects of parosmia (and having COVID) aren’t just physical.
It’s normal to experience mental health challenges as well. It can be isolating to deal with the after-effects of COVID. It can feel even more lonely to cope with the strangeness of parosmia or any other Long COVID symptoms. But know that you aren’t alone in this.
To combat these feelings, you can join online communities to talk to people who live with difficult-to-manage illnesses. Learn more tricks and tips for parosmia after COVID by talking with others. Don’t forget to reach out to your doctor as well for more information on what you can do to start recovering from the long-lasting impact of COVID.
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