Young woman inhaling scents of her food as part of smell training to get back her sense of smell after COVID-19 illness.

Lost Your Sense of Smell to COVID-19? Try Smell Training


May 17, 2021 Posted in: Coronavirus (COVID-19)

A common symptom of COVID-19 is the loss of smell and taste. All of a sudden, you can’t smell your favorite candle or taste your favorite food. Loss of smell has been linked to other viral illnesses, but never has it been like the COVID-19 pandemic. Why would COVID-19 cause you to lose your sense of smell? How can you get your sense of smell back faster? Let’s take a look. 

Why does COVID-19 cause me to lose my sense of smell?

Temporary loss of smell is a neurological symptom known as anosmia. Some studies suggest that loss of smell is a more common symptom of COVID-19 than cough or fever. The olfactory nerve, located on a small surface of the nasal cavity, is involved in the sense of smell. The virus that causes COVID-19 leads to damage of the olfactory nerve. Recovery from nerve damage is typically a slow process. 

How long does it take to regain my sense of smell after having COVID-19?

In most cases, the loss of smell and taste brought on by COVID-19 is temporary. Most people regain their sense of smell and taste within two to six months. However, there have been cases of lingering COVID-19-related anosmia, lasting more than six months. 

“In most cases, smell loss is temporary, but it can take months or even years to recover. If you have any type of smell at all, it’s a sign that your olfactory nerve is still working.” 

-Dr. Tran Locke, otolaryngologist at Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center

What can I do to get my sense of smell back after COVID-19?

Taste and smell are parts of everyday life. These senses can affect the experiences someone has with food, causing changes in body weight. It is important to think of these changes as temporary to keep from feeling overwhelmed. When a person can no longer taste or smell properly, there are steps that can make meals more exciting, like:

  • Including a variety of colors and textures in your meals
  • Using herbs and spices with strong aromas 
  • Boosting flavors by including cheese, olive oil, or toasted nuts
  • Avoiding recipes with too many ingredients as these may dull the flavor of the resulting meal
     

People can also benefit from smell training to help their sense of smell return sooner. This training involves smelling four different scents for 20 seconds at a time. This practice should be repeated twice a day for four to six months. A former COVID-19 patient at Baylor St. Luke’s uses strong-smelling oils, like essential oils, to disperse among their home throughout the day for smell training. 

Physicians say that olfactory retraining requires dedicated effort, and patients should manage their expectations when taking on this regimen.

“When you smell a rose scent, your characterization may be different than before you had the smell loss. You’re relearning what a rose smells like with your new smelling status. I talk with my patients about building a new smell vocabulary.”

-Dr. Sunthosh Sivam, otolaryngologist at Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center

Did you lose your sense of smell and taste to COVID-19? Schedule an appointment with a St. Luke’s Health ear, nose, and throat specialist to set up a smell retraining regimen. 

Sources: 

Baylor College of Medicine | Relearning to smell after COVID-19

KHOU 11 | New ways to regain smell, taste after COVID-19

Healthline | Post-COVID-19, It Can Take Over 5 Months for Sense of Smell to Return

Medical News Today | Loss of taste and smell with COVID-19

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