Elizabeth Medina, 38, has lost her taste and smell. It was in March 2020, the beginning of the pandemic. A year later, she is desperate at the idea of not getting them back.
School counselor at a New York high school, she consulted with otolaryngologists, neurologists and neurosurgeons, tried nasal sprays and is part of a group of patients who are undergoing treatment with fish oil.
To stimulate the sense of smell, she adds spices to all dishes, aromatic herbs in her teas and constantly smells a bracelet with essential oils. Everything in vain.
This mother of two claims to have lost many everyday pleasures, such as eating and cooking. And he’s been crying every day for months.
Medina is among the growing number of people with long-term “anosmia”, an often underestimated disorder that has become one of the hallmarks of the pandemic.
While most people who lose their taste and smell by coronavirus recover them for three to four weeks, “10% to 15%” lose them for months, says Valentina Parma, a psychologist at Temple University in Philadelphia and a member of an international consortium of researchers, the Global Consortium for Chemosensory Research (GCCR), which was formed at the beginning of the pandemic to study this problem.
For now, this consequence could affect at least two million people in the United States and more than 10 million worldwide, he explains.
Taste and smell are often considered less essential than sight or hearing.
Although they are essential for socialization (“we choose partners partly because of their smells,” emphasizes Parma), doctors tend to consider their loss less serious than other effects of long-term covid.
However, its disappearance is usually accompanied by nutritional problems, in addition to anxiety and even depression, says the doctor.
– Olfactory exercises – Like others who face “anosmia”, Medina ended up finding comfort and solidarity in a support group organized by a hospital near her home.
Groups of this type have multiplied on social media: the AbScent association – formed in 2019 in the United Kingdom and whose notoriety soared with the pandemic – saw the number of its members explode in a year from 1,500 to more than 45,000 on its different platforms, according to with its founder, Chrissi Kelly.
On the association’s Facebook page, the question that haunts Medina is repeated as a chorus: “Will I ever regain my taste and smell?”
With the knowledge that exists so far, it is “very difficult to predict how things will develop,” says Parma.
However, it is known that an evolution from anosmia to “parosmia”, that is, the false perception of odors, in which the smell of garbage is felt when inhaling the aroma of coffee, for example, is a good indicator of cure to long term.
What you can do are daily exercises to “feel” several different smells – like essential oils – this is the only treatment recommended without reservation: it works in 30% of cases after three to six months of exercise, says the researcher.
– “Stay strong” – Faced with this uncertainty, anosmia “veterans” like Chrissi Kelly, who for a long time lost her taste and smell after suffering sinusitis in 2012 and lost them again with her covid, and Katie Boateng, an American who has not smelled or smelled since 2009, they have become almost celebrities.
They share their experiences, leading the medical community to recognize the severity of these symptoms and to intensify research.
Boateng created the Smell Podcast in 2018, a mine of information and advice for his fellow misfortunes. And now she is part of a group of patients, the Patient Advocacy Group, which helps guide the research of the GCCR consortium.
Although she no longer hopes for a cure, she still hopes to “guide research that will result in a cure for people in the future,” he says.
While waiting for their studies to progress, many exercise daily, sometimes with the help of a “trainer” like Leah Holzel.
The culinary expert, who lost her nose from 2016 to 2019, has trained six novices of anosmia since the beginning of the pandemic in the rediscovery of aromas.
To maintain high self-esteem, many cling to the optimistic messages that sometimes appear on social media.
“It has been almost a year since I lost my taste and smell, and now I am practically recovered,” wrote Dominika Uhrakova, 26, of England on the AbScent Facebook page.
“It has been long and painful and this group has helped me not to go crazy (…) Stay strong, don’t lose hope. Good luck to everyone!”
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