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Doctors explain long-lasting loss of taste and smell after COVID

Published: Aug. 27, 2021 at 4:45 PM PDT|Updated: Aug. 27, 2021 at 5:18 PM PDT
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RENO, Nev. (KOLO) - Last January Jill Pellicciarini rang in the new year with a COVID infection. She says she woke up hitting a wall of fatigue. And it didn’t take long for the other symptoms to follow.

“Woke up one morning and in addition to not being able to smell or taste anything, was like a sense of a smell. It was very metallic, chemical metallic,” she says of the experience. “Somewhere between walking into a pool and that assault of chlorine. But, it didn’t smell like chlorine. It smelled like metal,” she says.

She says her loss of smell came and went. She worried she would never fully regain it. But those waves of no sense of smell came further and further apart as she fully recovered from COVID and received her vaccine.

But some patients aren’t as lucky as Jill.

Ear, nose and throat specialists are seeing patients, infected more than six months ago with the virus, who still have not regained their sense of smell.

“The people that have more persistent olfactory dysfunction are probably the younger people having less systemic illness, and less hospitalization and ventilation,” says Dr. Josh Meier with Nevada ENT.

Doctors don’t know why those who lose their sense of smell are less likely to be hospitalized. However, that sense of smell does not return quickly in some patients and no one can predict when that patient will be able to smell and for that matter taste food again.

To add to the problem, Dr. Meier says he is seeing a subset of patients who do regain those senses. But there’s a problem.

“Their smell has decreased after COVID,” says Dr. Meier. “It is still decreased, but now when they smell things, they smell bad. They don’t smell like they used to. But, it is never like it’s a good smell. It’s always like everything smells like garbage or burning trash,” says Dr. Meier.

Eating a great hamburger is the least of it. Loss of smell means patients can’t tell if food has gone bad, the smell of smoke--indicating a fire, or detect other pungent odors that help navigate our world.

There are no medicines to treat the problem, and no time frame in which patients can expect a faster recovery.

Dr. Meier says the only way to avoid the problem is to get the vaccine.

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