What it Feels Like to Lose your Taste & Smell after COVID

Words: Crush

*I am not a doctor or medical professional. This is a personal reflection and the remedies explained in this article are not to be taken as medical advice. Each person is different and responds to different treatments. If you’re coming out of COVID, please call your medical practitioner to ask advice on how to regain your smell and taste.*

One of the most peculiar side effects of COVID and now one of the most common too, is anosmia, or losing the ability to smell and therefore, taste. About 6 weeks ago, I tested positive for COVID and for the first few days into my diagnosis, I only experienced very mild symptoms — brain fog, fatigue and congestion. Being aware of the possibility of losing my  taste and smell, I compulsively tasted and smelled everything I could get my hands on to make sure I still had those two senses. I thought I was largely in the clear.

About five days into my isolation period, I took a nap after my morning coffee and rusk (I could still taste both) and woke up forty-five minutes later to the excitement of eating an almond croissant (a friend had dropped a box off on our doorstep). I took one bite and… nothing. It tasted like absolutely nothing and I became acutely aware of the hot sludgy, tasteless texture. Fearing the worst, I went and stuck my head into a bag of coffee — also nothing — which confirmed the worst.

Hard Truths

Unless you’ve experienced this yourself, you really won’t be able to understand just how terrible and panic-inducing it is, but I will do my best to try and explain what it feels like. As humans, we have five points of contact with the natural world — sight, smell, touch, taste and hearing. I, and many others, lost two of those entirely, which is incredibly disorienting and panic inducing. Our senses help us place ourselves in the world, so when you lose two of those, you struggle a bit to fully contextualise yourself. It’s dreadful.

About 10 days went by and nothing changed. My partner had to (very kindly) tell me it was time to shower and also assumed the role of taste-tester when I cooked dinner — a task that usually brings me immense joy but now made me want to burst into tears. I had no appetite but had to eat something, so I ate smaller meals, because chewing on nothing for longer periods of time was excruciating. Crunchier foods were also more appetising, so popcorn and toast became staples.

What now?

After 2 weeks, I  resigned to the hard truth that I was one of those unlucky souls that was stuck with this affliction for more than a week and started realising that this could go on for months… even years. Trying not to spiral into a deep depression, I did as much research as I could to find out what I could possibly do to get my smell and taste back. To no surprise, there was a wealth of knowledge (thanks Google), so I had to try and sift through the nonsense to find something meaningful to go on. I found some interesting information, the most useful being:

  • Zinc deficiency, with or without a COVID diagnosis, can cause anosmia. So I increased my zinc intake substantially to restore my zinc levels after the viral infection.
  • A lot of research suggests the problem is caused by inflammation in the blood cells, so I tried to eat anti-inflammatory foods, like turmeric and ginger.
  • Research suggests that COVID infects the support cells of your olfactory neurons. I read many articles that suggested stimulating your olfactory neurons with essential oils to help retrain the fatigued neurons to smell again, so I bought the four base essential oils – eucalyptus, lemon, clove and rose – and started smelling them every morning and night to help stimulate my olfactory neurons to start ‘talking’ to my brain.

Can I Taste & Smell? Yes.

Six weeks down the line and I can (thankfully) say that my smell and taste has largely returned. There are still a few foods I struggle to taste, red meat being one of them. This isn’t so common, most people struggle to taste coffee again or more bland foods, but for some reason red meat just isn’t back for me. I’m still doing my essential oil training and taking daily zinc supplements. I think the essential oil training was the most helpful as I started seeing improvements shortly after starting with my morning and night routine.

If you are still experiencing this, I would suggest trying to restimulate your olfactory neurons as it’s non-invasive and can only help you. If you’re looking for medical interventions, rather phone your doctor first to get their professional opinion, before trying something experimental.

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