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How Can COVID-19 Patients Regain Their Sense of Smell?

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Sometimes COVID-19 infections result in only a loss of smell or taste without other symptoms.

Researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University found that having a brain injury made it more likely a COVID-19 infection would result in a loss of the sense of smell or taste, and have recommended “smell training” to patients to help regain it.

The researchers cited two studies in their paper that indicated about half of patients with COVID-19 lose their sense of smell or taste.

“For many patients, it's actually prior to the onset of any other symptoms. And for some patients, it's the only symptom,” said Dr. Daniel Coelho, a professor of otolaryngology, head neck surgery at VCU’s medical school.

Coelho says that about 80% get their senses back, and most of recoveries tend to happen within the first month. People under 40 are more likely to recover than those over 40, the ongoing study found.

Losing the ability to see or hear has safety threats. Smell helps protect yourself too: think about the ability to smell a gas leak, or sense that your food is burning.

“57% reported at least one safety related event and that's in a relatively short amount of time,” he said. “Over the course of years or decades the implications are pretty significant for personal health safety and for public health.”

The researchers found that if a COVID-19 infection comes with a stuffy nose or congestion, the chances for getting smell back are better. They also recommended that smell training with essential oils can help.

“I continue to recommend that to my patients. It’s low cost and low risk,” said Dr. Evan Reiter, medical director of VCU's Smell and Taste Disorders Center, in a press release. “I’d also say potentially it may get people a little bit more tuned into whatever level of function they have left so it might make them more sensitive and better able to use the remaining sensors and neurons that are working,”

The researchers are looking for more data. The next round of research will look at how vaccination interacts with smell loss.

If you’d like to participate in the study you can find a link here. http://go.vcu.edu/covidsmell

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Jahd Khalil is a reporter and producer in Richmond.
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