One of the most common symptoms experienced and reported by COVID patients is the loss of taste and smell. While these senses gradually return over the course of a few weeks for most patients, there are many who have reported a prolonged loss of smell even months after completely recovering from the illness otherwise. 

While the loss of smell could be caused by other viral illnesses, cases where patients lost their sense of smell was a very rare occurrence before the COVID 19 pandemic. Research on the loss of smell is growing as more COVID-19 patients report this symptom, and doctors are studying ways on how to reverse it effectively.

Why does COVID cause a loss of smell?

The reason why loss of smell is such a common symptom of the corona virus is because the SARS-CoV-2 virus binds itself to the olfactory receptors found in the nose and nasal cavities. The olfactory receptors are responsible for recognizing and perceiving smells. If you can detect any type of smell, however faintly, it is a good sign and means that your olfactory nerves are still working.

How long does the loss of smell remain?

The recovery time for the sense of smell varies from person to person. There are even some COVID patients who report no loss of smell whatsoever. In majority of the cases, the loss of smell is temporary and returns as the other symptoms improve. However, in some cases it may take months or even years to recover completely. 

What to do if the loss of smell is prolonged?

It is advisable to consult your doctor if you or anyone you know is experiencing a prolonged loss of smell loss after recovering from COVID-19. You could also consult an ENT (ear, nose and throat) specialist to rule out anything else that may be causing the loss as inflammation from allergies and sinus issues also hamper the ability of your olfactory system to recover from the effects of COVID-19. Patients are usually prescribed nasal steroids or other medication to address inflammation.

If the problem still persists, you might look into getting physical therapy for you nose. Just like athletes undergo rehabilitation after injury, sometimes your olfactory system needs to be retrained to detect smell. This can be done with a smell therapy kit at home or with your doctor. 

How does Smell Therapy work?

Patients are made to smell the familiar scents of various herbs and essential oils for 20 seconds as they recall memories and experiences that they associate with that scent. Usually the essences of lemon, rose, cloves, and eucalyptus are recommended but depending on the patients preferences, others scents may also be used. This practice is repeated twice a day, every day, for a period of up to six months.

The outcome depends on how much you train your nose. It takes time and patience to see results and patients should not expect to be “cured” in just a couple of sessions. They should also perform this therapy in a calm, peaceful and quiet environment where there is no sensory overload and they can perform the activity with focus and attention.

Word of Caution 

As mentioned earlier, patients undergoing olfactory retraining should manage their expectations as the results aren’t instantaneous. Smell therapy requires dedicated effort and commitment to the regimen in order for it to work. Additionally, the recovery of your sense of smell may not be to the same level as you had before the COVID-19 infection. Essentially your body has to relearn what certain things smell like, so you may feel that lemons have a different characteristic smell than what you remember from before you had the smell loss.