A few weeks ago, some people lost their sense of smell. They are still waiting for him to come back


“I woke up and couldn’t taste or smell anything. It was the sharpest thing I have ever known, “said Londoner Holly Bourne.

a person sitting at a table in a restaurant: Holly Bourne describes her anosmia as

© Holly Bourne
Holly Bourne describes her anosmia as “one of the most upsetting things I have ever experienced.”

Bourne did not have the widely recognized symptoms of coronavirus – a cough or high fever – and is therefore not eligible to be tested by the National Health Service (NHS) of the United Kingdom. But her experience of suddenly losing her sense of smell, combined with “strange headaches”, headaches and exhaustion led her doctor to diagnose her “right away” with Covid-19 over the phone.

Although there are not yet solid studies on the link between coronavirus and smell, doctors have anecdotally reported that loss of ability to smell may be among the symptoms of the virus – but its distribution and its duration are unclear.

“I’m lucky I don’t have really scary symptoms,” said the 33-year-old author. However, she describes her loss of smell, or anosmia, as “one of the most upsetting things I have ever experienced because you are not driving … I feel really helpless and scared . “

Aside from the psychological impact of believing that you have caught a deadly virus and how losing your sense of smell strips away the joy of eating, anosmia can also be dangerous.

As Bourne discovered when his boyfriend asked him why a plastic margarine was melting on the stove in their London home. Her back was turned while making sandwiches and she could not detect the smell of synthetic burns.

Like the dozens of odorless people CNN spoke to for this article, with a lack of official advice from health authorities available, Bourne turned to Google and social media for answers. She shared what she found in a thread on Twitter, where some people report that their sense of smell still hasn’t returned after three or four weeks.

Most people with recent anosmia or hyposmia – partial loss of smell – during the coronavirus pandemic want to know how long will it last? Will it be permanent?

The answer, according to Professor Steven Munger, director of the Center for Smell and Taste at the University of Florida, is unknown.

“What we have known for a long time is one of the main causes of odor loss: upper respiratory infections caused by viruses – a cold, the flu – a subset of people lose their sense of smell, mostly temporarily, but a small subset definitely loses that smell, “Munger told CNN.

For smell to return, “it can take days, weeks, sometimes even months or even years on rare occasions. Sometimes it’s progressive, sometimes it’s all at once and we don’t really know why, ”he adds.

“I’m almost two weeks old now and around 70% of my sense of smell has returned. One nostril is better than the other nostril, “says Bourne.

Mark Driver, a 55-year-old winemaker from London, started feeling sick with a cough, sore throat and mild temperature after coming into contact with a former colleague who has since tested positive for Covid-19 at Dubai. Around the eighth day of the driver’s illness, he lost his sense of smell. “It coincided with very severe headaches in the front of my head, just above my eyes,” he said.

“Smell is very important to my work, so I was a little concerned that it wouldn’t come back. Twenty days since he got sick, Driver says his wine tasting is “appalling” and he still doesn’t smell much.

Sian Griffiths, 60, who normally runs a bed and breakfast in Argyll, Scotland, started to feel tired on March 28 and realized that she lost her sense of smell when cooking a curry the next day. “I realized that I couldn’t taste it, even when I inadvertently chewed a cardamom pod. It was rather disconcerting because I had no other symptoms such as a stuffy nose, “she said.

Like many others in the UK, she followed government guidelines and did not contact her local health department because she had no coughs or fever. But she became worried after a few days. “I tried to stick my nose in a pot of coffee – nothing. Whiskey – nothing. Fry the bacon – not a clue. “

“Eating something was most unpleasant, even repellant because I couldn’t be sure that what I was eating was actually food,” added Griffiths.

The question of whether people experience loss of smell or loss of taste comes down to the scientific or familiar use of the word taste, says Munger. “When scientists talk about taste, they talk about what you can detect in your mouth that makes you feel – sweetness, salinity, bitterness, bitterness or umami (tasty). But taste plus smell is what your brain puts in place to create flavor function, “says Munger.

Griffiths noticed that the loss of her sense of smell meant that she could no longer know if the food was gone, saying “It is almost automatic to sniff a bottle of milk before pouring it just in case it is your turn. Speaking of what is day 12 without his full sense of smell, Griffiths says, “I now have slight notes back. Almost as if certain molecules were passing. I caught a splash of fresh paint where I had painted some woodwork a few days ago … I would say that I now have about 10% odor and taste. “

Amy Walker, 30, director of finance and business in London, felt like she had a bad cold and lost her sense of smell on March 18 – more than three weeks ago.

“I was extremely lethargic, going from my bed to the bathroom made me feel like I had run a marathon,” she recalls. Walker contacted a person who tested positive for coronavirus and called the NHS helpline, but after spending a long time on hold, she thought that because her symptoms were not affecting her respiratory system, she should just follow the advice given on the NHS website.

“Taste and smell both went together. I am recovering from an eating disorder that I have had for more than half of my life and the loss of taste is an extremely emotional thing for me psychologically – it immediately made me feel completely miserable, “says Walker.

“It brought back the fear of food and an attitude of” Well, I can’t taste it, so what’s the good of eating anything? ” ” She adds. “To be confined and so exhausted with these two senses that were taken from you when there was panic and the fear of sowing everywhere was beyond exhaustion. “

Walker says her sense of taste and smell is now about 50%, however, having some taste and smell coming back and then having no more progress, she wonders if she is “now stuck like that. “

Claire Hopkins, President of the British Rhinological Society, is an ENT doctor leading the charge of loss of smell recognized by the World Health Organization as a symptom of coronavirus.

Hopkins insisted that the loss of smell be included in a coronavirus symptom tracking mobile application developed by King’s College London. King later reported on April 1 that his research found that loss of smell or taste was a higher predictor of coronavirus infection than fever. Of the 400,000 people in the UK who reported one or more symptoms between 24 and 29 March, 18% had lost their sense of smell or taste and 10.5% suffered from fever.

Hopkins has been overwhelmed by the hundreds of people who have contacted her to share their experiences since the publication of a letter on March 20 via ENT UK, an organization representing ear, nose and throat surgeons in the United Kingdom. The letter stated that patients with new anosmia should self-isolate.

When one of his colleagues at Guys & St Thomas Hospital in London circulated his letter in less than five minutes, 20 doctors told him “this is exactly what I have. One of them had a private Covid-19 test and tested positive that day, she said.

There is still a shortage of coronavirus tests in the UK. For example, on April 9, the Department of Health reported that just over 10,000 people had been tested; the government’s goal by the end of the month is to test 100,000 a day, according to Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

This means that patients and doctors have to self-isolate based on symptoms, which obviously makes it even more important to know what the symptoms of coronavirus are.

Since being inundated with inquiries after the letter was published, Hopkins has conducted an email investigation into nearly 2,500 patients with sudden loss of smell. When filling out the questionnaire, about 50% said they were already starting to see improvement. In a week-long follow-up, two-thirds said they were already starting to see improvement, said Hopkins.

She advises that if you do not recover, you should see a doctor when it is possible to have face-to-face consultations again.

Advice for the sick

So what can be done – if any – to help restore your sense of smell during the coronavirus pandemic?

For those who feel anxious and worried, Munger says people should “recognize that it’s legitimate.”

From a security point of view, it is possible not to detect fires and to consume spoiled food, but there is also “a real emotional component to feel, an accompanying connectivity” which is linked to our interactions that often revolve around food or drink.

“There’s also this connection to the world: flowers, the smell of a partner’s hair, all these types of things are very real and not having them can be emotionally isolating,” he says.

One of the treatments that ENT doctors sometimes use for odor loss that could come from an inflammatory response is to use nasal steroids, says Munger. This involves spraying steroids in the nose to try to reduce the inflammation.

Hopkins explains that normally in post-viral anosmia “we would consider using steroid tablets” however, this is not the case at present because the World Health Organization warns against use oral steroids for people infected with Covid-19, citing the potential risk of increasing the severity of respiratory complications.

“Until we know for sure that steroids will not cause harm, we avoid them, especially in the first two weeks. Most people who deteriorate deteriorate between the 8th and 12th day, in terms of respiratory complications. It is possible that if you are past this 14-day window, the risk of steroids may be lower, but no one really knows, ”adds Hopkins.

For these types of treatments, you should go see a specialist, but there is another potential aid that Munger and Hopkins both suggest trying at home.

This is called “training in smell” – basically sniffing things in the house that are harmless to smell to help stimulate a response in the olfactory epithelium. It is a tissue located in the upper part of the nasal cavity, just against the skull, which contains the sensory system which reacts to odors.

This is the part of the nose that appears to be damaged by the coronavirus, Hopkins said.

“We know that the coronavirus receptors – the ACE2 receptors – are found at very high levels in the lining of the nose and therefore allow the coronavirus to attach to the nose and damage the odor receptors that sense odors. “”

Smell training

According to FifthSense, a UK charity for people affected by smell and taste disorders, for training to be most effective, you need to practice smelling at least twice a day, ideally in the morning and evening. Relax and breathe naturally and don’t sniff too hard or too long. Ten seconds for each smell is enough.

Munger says there is no need to use essential oils for odor formation. If you don’t have one, you can choose safe items in your home: shampoo, mild spices, lemon juice.

“You just have to repeat it over and over again, and what it can do is help the brain to focus on the amount of olfactory function that is still intact and allow you to maximize it,” he explains. he.

“Think of it like learning how to throw a ball, ice skate or a foreign language – you try to use the device you left to feel and your brain changes with repeated exposure to do it better. “

He is cautious about its effectiveness, claiming that the “jury is still absent” – it is unclear whether spontaneous recovery is due to the formation of smell or simply occurs naturally – but above all, there is no harm in trying.

Although the science surrounding Covid-19 and the loss of taste and odor in case-control studies does not yet exist, scientists and doctors around the world are working to collect data. The Global Consortium of Chemosensory Researchers (GCCR), a group of more than 300 international researchers on smell and taste from more than 40 countries, has launched a patient survey.

For anyone who still suffers from a lack of smell or taste more than two weeks after being sick for the first time during this pandemic, Hopkins has these reassuring words: “The good news is that the vast majority of people are likely to recover. “


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