What to do if COVID-19 kills your taste, smell

Doctor says retraining your brain may help you get smell, taste back

SAN ANTONIO – Losing your sense of smell and taste may seem like a small sacrifice in the grand scheme of things after a COVID-19 infection, but doctors say it’s nothing to sniff at. While you may miss the delight of a peanut butter sandwich or cup of coffee, there is a real danger in losing these senses.

The popularity of TikTok posts showing people snacking on burnt oranges mashed with brown sugar is an example of how desperate COVID-19 survivors are to find a solution. As many as 90% of survivors have some sort of smell loss or taste loss.

Dr. Monica Verduzco Gutierrez is a rehabilitation specialist at University Health and heads up the Post-COVID Recovery Clinic at the hospital and UT Health. She said your sense of taste depends on good-working olfactory neurons in the nose. COVID-19 interrupts their operation.

“The sense of smell is controlled by a nerve that kind of goes from the underside of the brain to the nose, and so with the infection itself coming in through those passages, that’s why it’s affected,” she said.

It’s usually a temporary loss, but it can take many forms, from no smell at all to arbitrary odd smells.

“What’s bad is when it turns into something gross. So, for you, it may be a taste like nothing or rubber, but for someone else, I’ve had other patients tell me it tastes like sewage,” Gutierrez said.

Seasonings are an issue too. For example, if you have high blood pressure and can’t taste the salt well, you could be adding too much and causing your illness to worsen.

It can also be dangerous. Like in the case of a devastating house fire in Alvord, Texas, 50 miles northwest of Fort Worth, in mid-January. The family was unable to smell a fire after contracting COVID-19. The smoke alarms didn’t signal the growing fire, but a toddler in the home that didn’t get COVID alerted them. They all survived, but their home was destroyed.

That is why Dr. Gutierrez recommends making sure your home and workspace smoke alarms have new batteries if you’re recovering from COVID-19. And that within six weeks of your infection, you retrain your nose.

“You’re trying to make those connections and making a mental image of what it is while smelling the lemon smell,” she said.

There are smell training kits for sale online, but you can do it yourself with things around the house. Gutierrez said essential oils like lavender or rosemary are great for this, but you can also simply pull some jars from the spice rack.

Research is currently underway to refine the technique, but it’s recommended to train your nose first thing in the morning. Smell the contents bottle or jar of scent while looking at the label to remind your brain what it is.

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About the Author:

Ursula Pari has been a staple of television news in Texas at KSAT 12 News since 1996 and a veteran of broadcast journalism for more than 30 years.