How COVID-19 Could Actually Change Your Senses Of Smell And Taste

It is common knowledge that many people lose their senses of taste and smell when they have COVID-19. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists this as a classic symptom that may point to COVID-19. Far fewer people are aware of the possibility that COVID-19 may continue to distort your sense of smell. For example, after having COVID-19, coffee could smell like garbage and lemon may smell like gasoline. According to a study published in BDJ In Practice, around half of people who lose their sense of smell from COVID-19 go on to suffer smell distortions a couple months after recovering from the virus.

This happens not only to people who had COVID-19, but also to people who lose their sense of smell from other infections (per European Archives of Oto-Rhino-Laryngology). Why does it happen? Nobody knows for sure, but Dr. Eric Holbrook tells Prevention that after a virus disrupts the connection between your nose and brain, recovering nerves may go to a different part of the brain compared to before, which will throw off your sense of smell. This will also affect your sense of taste, because it is so dependent on your sense of smell. Some people find that their favorite foods end up tasting like garbage.

How is this condition treated?

According to the Cochrane Library, your sense of smell should return to normal within two to four weeks. However, a study published in the Nature Public Health Emergency Collection found that while most people do recover within three months, the condition (called parosmia) can persist for as long as six months in some people. This can be a serious problem. As Dr. Richard Orlandi tells the University of Utah, "Your sense of smell is important. It's what helps you enjoy food and sense danger, as in the case of smoke."

Dr. Eric Holbrook tells Prevention that you should always check in with your doctor any time you experience a disturbance in your senses, just to make sure it's not caused by anything serious. In the meantime, some people report improvement with what is called "scent training." According to The Laryngoscope, this involves sniffing an odor for at least 15 seconds per day, while keeping in mind what the scent should smell like.