How Can You Regain Your Sense Of Smell After Having COVID-19?

Have you recently lost your sense of smell? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this is called anosmia, and it is a common symptom of COVID-19. Loss of smell can have a serious impact on quality of life, possibly even leading to depression (via PLOS One). It can affect a person's ability to taste, leading to over or undereating. As Nature points out, anosmia can even be physically dangerous, since your ability to smell can alert you to a fire, gas leak, or rotten food.

A 2020 study in JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery found that while most surveyed COVID-19 patients who lost their sense of smell experienced improvement within four weeks, some did not. In fact, a 2021 research letter in the same journal estimates that over 700,000 and perhaps as many as 1.6 million people in the United States will have to experience a COVID-related loss of smell for more than six months. This is called chronic olfactory dysfunction (COD).

Loss of smell is a problem that doesn't necessarily go away as soon as you recover from COVID-19. So, in the meantime, try these things to get your nose working again.  

Smell training

Smell training, also called olfactory training, can help you get your sense of smell back, according to a 2015 systematic review. You should sniff essential oils in four categories — spice, fruit, floral, and citrus. Dr. Jennifer Reavis Decker from UCHealth explains that your sense of smell is connected with your memory, and using those memories can help get your nose working again. 

AbScent suggests keeping at least four small jars with lids and essential oils. You can use any essential oils you want, but the traditional scents are eucalyptus, lemon, clove, and rose. Cut out small circles from watercolor paper and add one to each jar along with a few drops of the essential oils. Use some labels, so you know which one is which. Keep the jars by your bed, away from sunlight, and smell each one when you wake up and before bedtime. Store your essential oil bottles in the fridge to keep them fresh. Be mindful during your smell training. Set aside some time for it, and avoid distractions while sniffing. Replace the scented papers every four months.

Saline rinse

ENT & Audiology: A Department of Rutland Regional Medical Center recommends trying nasal irrigation to help regain your sense of smell. It works as a natural decongestant and flushes out germs and mucous that may be blocking your nasal passages. 

You may need a nasal rinse with topical nasal steroids if you still don't have your smell back after smell training and saline nasal irrigation. Just keep in mind that it can take several weeks or longer to regain your sense of smell after having COVID-19. Also, be warned that before regaining your sense of smell, you may get parosmia or an altered sense of smell (via ENTHealth).

Rush University Medical Center recommends seeing an ENT (ear, nose, and throat) specialist if you don't get your sense of smell back after a month. Most people can smell again after about four weeks. A specialist can help determine why your sense of smell hasn't returned and start you on some treatments that may help. For example, you may have developed a sinus infection that makes it take longer for you to get your smell back.