Months after recovery, Covid is still playing havoc with their sense of taste and smell | India News – Times of India

Amanjyot Kaur first lost her sense of taste and smell after being diagnosed with Covid last June. After recovering, she regained 10% but lost it again over the next ten months. Worried, she began searching for help online and tried home remedies like eating raw garlic in water but to no avail. One particular incident shook her up. “I was baking biscuits and couldn’t even smell them burning though I was right there,” she recalls. “My father would spray deodorant right in front of me and I wouldn’t be able to tell.”
Kaur’s condition is known as anosmia, and is one of the long-term effects of Covid-19 that can persist for weeks after the initial illness. While most Covid-19 patients who lose the ability to taste or smell recover it within four weeks, a small number don’t regain it fully for months. Some also experience parosmia, a distortion of the sense of smell in which ordinary things such as onion, meat and even chocolate smell repulsive.
According to Dr. Chandra Veer Singh, consultant otorhinolaryngologist at Wockhardt Hospital, Mumbai, a study published in the British Medical Journal has shown that 50% of people recovering from Covid experienced loss of smell up to a month, 10% had no improvement after 1 month and 1% didn’t improve 6-18 months. “Often patients suffering from parosmia can’t eat properly since even good smells become unpleasant,” he says.
Kaur, 18, agrees. “Eventually everything tasted the same – bad. There was no dish I could enjoy except desserts because they were sweet,” she says. Certain foods like beetroot and yoghurt would make her nauseous. She lost almost 7kg of weight after Covid and became very weak. “Even now, I don’t feel like eating anything and literally force myself to eat to regain immunity and weight,” she says.
Chandigarh-based Natasha Dewan, 26, would often boast that she had the nose of a dog before Covid. “I cook often and could smell what was missing from food,” she recalls. “Now I just I’m not so confident of flavours.” This changed after Covid in December when she lost her olfactory senses completely. She has still only recovered 7% of it and admits that it initially took a mental toll on her. “Initially I was very frustrated but then I realised it isn’t in my hands,” she says.
Dr S Chatterjee, internal medicine specialist at Apollo Hospitals, says that while anosmia and parosmia were earlier thought to be short-term, several patients have complained of them lasting for a much longer time recently. This is often seen in younger patients with milder cases. “The main reason is that the nasal epithelium has a lot of olfactory cells which have a large number of receptors which are penetrated by the spike protein of Covid-19 and through which it enters the body,” he says. “Another theory is that the virus affects the brain neurons which control the smell.”
Sometimes parosmia can also conjure phantom smells. Vadodara based student Kavya Thakkar, 24, began to feel that her own body odour was unbearably pungent after recovering from Covid in June. “I got really insecure and would ask my mother if I smelled bad but she’d say no,” Thakkar, 24, recalls. “I would shower thrice a day and compulsively buy and use extra deodorant.” Certain foods like coriander, onion and garlic also smelled rotten. “If someone is chopping these or even sautéing them, it smells like something has gone bad to me,” she says. “However, it started improving recently and I can now at least eat onions and garlic in a cooked form.”
Dr Vivek Nangia, principal director, pulmonology, at Max Super Speciality Hospital, Saket, Delhi points out that while anosmia and parosmia are part of long Covid, they are still less common than fatigue, body ache, breathlessness, memory lapses and brain fog. Treatment usually involves smell training, where patients are asked to smell different compounds like coffee, mustard oil or camphor to help them remember the original aromas. “We ask them to taste and smell different things — something pungent, bitter, sour, salty and sweet — at every hour of the day to get them back,” Nangia says. In a few cases, steroids have also been used to help with recovery.
For Pune-based Shruti Jani, 24, the distorted smell has persisted since recovering from Covid August. It isn’t just onions that smell rotten, even chocolate and banana taste metallic to her “like a cast iron spoon”. Since March when she had Covid-like symptoms again (though her test was negative), garlic started bad as well. “Eggs also smell different though I can eat them,” says Thakkar. But the most annoying part of the experience has been the nagging feeling that she has bad body odour. “It was embarrassing, I didn’t smell like me, it was different,” she says, recalling how she would have to change her t-shirt immediately after working out. “You can’t go away from this smell since it is literally you.”
Similarly, Vadodara-based surgeon Yash Patel gets a metallic taste whenever he eats red or green chillies since getting Covid in December. “I noticed it for the first time while having a red chilli and garlic chutney, which we make quite often with dal-baati,” he says.
Yet, these conditions are still poorly understood even within the medical fraternity. When Kaur went to several general physicians, they told her she was just imagining things. Last month, she finally visited Dr Singh for help, was treated with steroids and has now transitioned to parosmia. She can smell, even though onion and garlic smell rotten, and even egg and meat taste bad. “People had told me that I would never get my smell back since it has already been 10 months,” she says. “But I felt hopeful the day I first tasted coffee again that maybe I might recover at least 50% of my smell.”

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