COVID-19 and Taste/Smell Loss

COVID 19 is one of a variety of conditions that can lead to changes in taste and smell, this is often due to inflammation to the structures involved in smell but could be caused by changes to how the messages about odours are processed by the brain because of the virus. When people experience a change in or loss of smell they often feel like this also affects their taste.  This is because the flavour of food is dependent on our ability to smell it.

Sometimes after a virus taste and smell will return spontaneously as the body recovers from the virus.  If this going to happen it usually returns in the first few months after being unwell. A slower recovery can still occur over time.

Losing the sense of taste and smell can affect a person’s quality of life.  It may be hard to enjoy food and drink, judge personal hygiene or detect dangerous signals such as smoke, gas or that food/drink has ‘gone off’.

Research does not highlight a single medication that helps recovery of taste and smell, and in fact there are some medications that can cause further harm to the ability to smell. Although medications may not provide a cure there is clinical evidence to support the use of Smell Re-training (Olfactory Training). This training follows a basic process that a person can do at home to help re-train their brain to smell again. Smell training may not bring your smell back completely but could improve it.

Smell re-training

Smell re-training helps the smell pathways to recover.

The training can be viewed online through Fifthsense or Abscent and includes some useful documents you can download to support re-training.

The training consists of smelling items from four different odour categories flowery, fruity, spicy and resinous,  such as rose, eucalyptus, lemon or clove.

  • Select your first odour, smell it for approx. 15 seconds whilst trying to remember what it smelt like previously.
  • Rest for 10 seconds.
  • Move onto the next smell, smelling it for approx. 15 seconds and then rest for 10 seconds.
  • Repeat until all four smells have been sampled.
  • Repeat whole process another time that day. Ideally morning and evening.

Its best to choose scents that fit into the four smell categories, but you can just choose any you have easy access to, like or have a connection with. Examples: lemon/orange rind, nutmeg, clove, mint, eucalyptus, ground coffee, coconut, sprig of fresh or dried herbs.

It’s important to record your progress in the form of a diary log.

Research suggests that people who do smell re-training do better when they vary the smells they use on a monthly basis by changing the four smells but still within the four odour categories.

Individuals can experience changes to taste and smell as a side effect of long or short term medication. Particularly: antibiotics (recently / coinciding with changes in taste & smell),
anti-depressants, Anti-psychotics, anti-hypertensive / cardiac medications and anti-inflammatory agents (steroids). If you take any of these medication you need to consider whether these are the cause of your changes in taste and smell.

Other symptoms

If you experience smell changes along with other symptoms highlighted below they may require further investigation.

SymptomTypical smell loss characteristics
Nasal congestion and / or drainageFluctuating smell loss
Nasal congestion and/or bleedingGradual smell loss
Headache or neurologic changes / visual changesGradual smell loss
Memory problemsGradual smell loss
Tremor, bradykinesia, muscular stiffnessGradual smell loss
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