Health & Fitness

Tackling loss of smell problem linked to Covid-19 infection

BD-SMELL

Summary

  • The Covid-19 disease presents with a myriad of symptoms among those infected.
  • They include fever, dry cough, tiredness, headache and the loss of taste or smell.
  • Upon recovery, most of the symptoms usually subside and stop altogether. But others, such as the loss of smell tend to linger over longer periods in some patients.

The Covid-19 disease presents with a myriad of symptoms among those infected.

They include fever, dry cough, tiredness, headache and the loss of taste or smell.

Upon recovery, most of the symptoms usually subside and stop altogether. But others, such as the loss of smell tend to linger over longer periods in some patients.

Mary, a 45-year-old resident of Nairobi, suffered from this challenge for about two months, after testing positive for the disease earlier this year.

“My symptoms were not severe. I just isolated myself and effectively managed the infection at home. After a week, I was feeling much better but my sense of smell had not yet come back. And that was frustrating,” she says.

“Life became unbearable! I was always self-conscious and wondering if I was smelling since there was no way of telling if I was sweaty or not without the sense of smell. I would also burn food unknowingly and lose appetite, as I could not smell the alluring aroma of different dishes that make eating enjoyable.”

Patients going through this problem are often advised to wait it out. In some instances, certain medications may be prescribed to help alleviate the discomfort of those who find it extremely difficult or stressful to cope with the loss of smell.

Nevertheless, a new study published in the International Forum of Allergy and Rhinology Journal, indicates that the loss of smell challenge can be solved using alternative safe methods, instead of relying on drugs that can pose health risks among those affected.

Steroids — a class of drugs that lower inflammation in the body — are sometimes administered to help Covid-19 patients recover their sense of smell fast.

But they may lead to adverse health effects such as mood fluctuations, muscle weakness, blurred vision, easy bruising, reduced immunity, puffy face, stomach irritation, sleep problems, acne and restlessness.

As such, an international group of health experts from the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom note that steroids should not be used to treat smell loss caused by Covid-19.

“Smell loss is a prominent symptom of Covid-19 and the pandemic is leaving many people with long-term smell loss. But we do not recommend the use of steroids to treat the condition,” they state.

Instead, the team recommends using the ‘smell training’ approach. This is a process that involves sniffing at least four different odours twice a day for several months.

They note that this innovative approach has emerged as a cheap, simple and side effect free treatment option for various causes of smell loss, including Covid-19.

“The huge rise in smell loss caused by Covid-19 has created an unprecedented worldwide demand for treatment,” notes Prof Carl Philpott, a smell loss expert from the University of East Anglia’s Norwich Medical School.

Studies show that around one in five people who experience smell loss as a result of Covid-19 often report that their sense of smell has not returned to normal, eight weeks after falling ill.

“Steroids are a class of drugs that lower inflammation in the body. Doctors often prescribe them to help treat conditions such as asthma, and they have been considered as a therapeutic option for smell loss caused by Covid-19,” states Prof Philpott.

“But they have well-known potential side effects including fluid retention, high blood pressure and problems with mood swings and behaviour.”

During the study, the team of researchers from the University of East Anglia carried out a systematic review of existing evidence to see whether steroids could help people regain their sense of smell.

“We found that there is very little evidence that steroids will help with smell loss. And because they have well known potential adverse side effects, our advice is that they should not be prescribed as a treatment for post-viral smell loss,” says Prof Philpott.

He notes that luckily, most people who experience smell loss as a result of Covid-19 will regain their sense of smell naturally.

“Indeed, research shows that 90 per cent of infected people will have fully recovered their sense of smell after six months,” says Prof Philpott.

During smell training sessions, patients receive a variety of smell kits comprising different odours such as eucalyptus, lemon, rose, cinnamon, chocolate, coffee, lavender, honey, strawberry and thyme.

They are required to sniff at least four different odours twice each day for several months.

This entails spending around 20 seconds on each scent and concentrating on the smelling action to activate all senses involved in this process.

The training boosts recovery through a process known as neuroplasticity, which refers to the brain’s ability to reorganise itself to compensate for a change or injury in the body.

This helps the smell pathways to start to regenerate and recover, hence enabling people to slowly gain back their lost or distorted sense of smell caused by viral infections like Covid-19.