Anosmia has been identified as a leading symptom of Covid-19 with some experiencing a prolonged loss of smell long after the active infection has passed. To counteract the loss of their olfactory senses, some recovering patients are turning to “smell therapy” to try and restore their sense of smell. The symptom, which was first officially recognized as a side effect of coronavirus by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in April, can greatly impact quality of life and for some even disrupt their livelihoods.
One organization offering hope to those who have gone "nose blind" is AbScent, a UK charity centered around therapies for anosmia. "At the moment, we are probably three times the membership that we were before Covid-19 hit," said the founder Chrissi Kelly in an interview with Business Insider.
"I first noticed the interest in March when people suddenly started contacting me on social media, first from Iran, then Italy, and then Spain. Now we have over 7,000 members in our [Facebook] groups."
Smell training is essentially a form of physiotherapy for the olfactory senses, which attempts to increase sensitivity in the nerves in your nose so that they can better respond to stimuli such as essential oils. According to Kelly, the treatment involves establishing a “smell kit” containing a consistent group of different smells, such as rose, lemon, clove, and eucalyptus, that the patient sniffs for up to 20 seconds, twice each day, for a minimum of four months. The oils can be swapped out for any other strong-smelling substance you may have at home – coffee, spices etc – the key is in the training.
Anosmia can have a profound effect on people’s mood, making them feel isolated and less able to enjoy some of life’s simpler pleasures such as eating a meal (as taste is closely related to smell) or enjoying the scent of the air after rain. For some, the affliction goes further, as for those with jobs dependent on their senses – such as sommeliers – the loss of smell can render them unable to work. Some sommeliers have even had their sense of smell insured to protect against losing their livelihoods in this way.
The good news is it seems prolonged anosmia from Covid is seen in the minority of cases. According to a study in Italy, 90 percent of people affected by a loss of smell had it back again within a month. It’s thought the sudden loss of smell is linked to something called cleft syndrome, which is when inflammation in the nasal passages blocks access to the areas of the nose that are sensitive to smell. Once this inflammation recedes, the sense of smell usually returns quite swiftly, within around a fortnight.
For others however the inflammation can leave lasting damage to the nerves and tissue, but smell therapy can help these patients in providing stimulus that encourages nerve regeneration. For these patients "the chances are good," Kelly explained. “You can do amazing things with your sense of smell, whether you are a healthy person or a recovering person.”