The importance of the sense of smell, and its connection to that of taste, is something that many people do not appreciate until it stops working properly.
Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, this sense has taken on the value it deserves.
Between 50% and 80% of people who have suffered a coronavirus infection have experienced some type of loss of smell and taste. It should be said that loss of smell is common after viral infections and can also occur as a consequence of head injuries and other diseases.
In addition, some people also suffer from olfactory confusion two to three months after COVID-19, which can be very irritating, says Professor Thomas Hummel of the Center for Smell and Taste at Carl Gustav Carus University Hospital in the German city of Dresden: “Some patients perceive certain smells differently, it may be that the smell of coffee suddenly seems ‘strangely chemical’ to them.”
And, in the long run, this alternating sense of smell can be very stressful.
In many COVID-19 patients, this olfactory confusion corrects itself after two to three months. However, in 5-20% of patients, the sense of smell disappears completely or is severely impaired.
Loss of smell also implies loss of social skills
“This not only reduces the taste experience when eating, but also leads to a loss of social competence,” says Professor Hummel.
After all, many things revolve around shared meals, a social moment that brings together families, friends and acquaintances around the table in which flavors are highly valued. But what if the food always tastes “bland”? What if you can no longer recognize your own partner or even your own children by smell? What if you’re not sure if your own deodorant still works?
Those affected do not have to suffer from this disorder forever. “You can train your sense of smell, but you have to have a certain perseverance to do it,” says Professor Hummel. Facilities such as the Dresden Interdisciplinary Center for Smell and Tasting assist patients in both clinical diagnosis and therapy.
Rose, clove, lemon: this is how the nose is trained
One of them is the so-called olfactory training, with which the nose is worked for a long period of time. Patients are given simple, natural scents such as rose, clove, lemon or eucalyptus to take home and train with.
“To start with, four scents are enough, morning and evening, half a minute for each scent, and you have to do it regularly over a long period of time,” explains Professor Hummel.
Alternatively, patients can also pick up scented or essential oils and “smell” them.
And how do you measure the success of that olfactory training? An otolaryngologist can, for example, measure the threshold above which a certain odor is perceived.
Or the patient must be able to correctly assign the different smells. In this way, objective progress in improving olfactory capacity can be determined, since not all patients perceive it in the same way.
The road to recovering the olfactory capacity is arduous, but it is worth it for those affected, so that in the future the morning coffee smells (and tastes) as it should.