What's It Like to Have an Altered Sense of Smell Due to COVID-19? Parosmia and All the Challenges It Brings

Marcel Kuttab noticed that when her smell started returning after having COVID-19, nothing smelled the same.

When Marcel Kuttab came down with COVID-19 in March 2020, a loss of taste and smell was the first thing she noticed. But the next month, when her smell began returning, it wasn’t the same. Meat smelled rancid and peanut butter smelled like nail files. And she could barely eat anything because of what she was experiencing. 

It turned out she had parosmia, an abnormality of sense of smell due to things like cold and infections and the damage it causes to the body’s olfactory nerve. In Kuttab’s case, the culprit was the coronavirus. 

“Nowadays, I don't really eat unless I'm super hungry because it's kind of a chore and it's not enjoyable at all. I've lost a good amount of weight,” Kuttab told Inside Edition Digital. “For months, my fiancé would eat outside or in a different room by a window because I couldn't tolerate the smell of his food. It would make me feel sick.”

As months have passed, Kuttab, 28, has been increasingly able to tolerate more smells than she initially could, but her smell could take more than a year to return to normal, doctors have said. 

Dr. James Mark Harrison, an ENT physician, said the outlook for patients with parosmia in comparison to people who totally lost their sense of smell, known as anosmia, is much better. 

Anosmia is related to the complete damage of the olfactory nerve, while parosmia is evidence of the “unique regenerating capability of the olfactory neurons,” according to a study in the postgraduate medical journal, “Parosmia post COVID-19: an unpleasant manifestation of long COVID syndrome.”

“The good news is that their sense of smell is intact,” Harrison told Inside Edition Digital. “The bad news is they're having to relearn exactly what they're smelling. We don't have a current treatment for it, but most of these patients are getting better with time.”

Harrison recommends patients with parosmia pick four scents, like peppermint or lemon, to help them retrain their olfactory nerve to identify what they are smelling. 

Parosmia is just one of the many symptoms people have experienced as part of what doctors are calling long-haul COVID. For Kuttab, she is happy there is hope and is trying to continue to expose herself to smells, despite how hard it can be. 

“In the beginning when it was really severe, it was kind of impossible to do that, but now there are more and more foods where they have a slightly bad taste overtop, or they taste completely different and not necessarily good, but it's tolerable,” she said. "But I think just by being able to expose myself to those things, it helps it to taste better and normal over time.”

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