Sep 03, 2021 10:30 AM

Author: Office of Public Affairs


One of the earlier warning signs of COVID-19 disease was a loss of taste and smell. Most patients recover from this, but some report they now experience an unpleasant new symptom called parosmia. It’s a condition where otherwise normal smells now smell unpleasant or even disgusting. For example, to someone with parosmia, smells such as coffee or fruit smell like garbage, rotten meat or eggs, or ammonia.

What is parosmia?

“Parosmia can be caused by a number of things such as respiratory infections, seizures, and even brain tumors,” says Richard Orlandi, MD, an ear, nose, and throat physician and professor in the Department of Surgery at University of Utah Health. “We’ve noticed since the pandemic more COVID-recovered patients now report this symptom.”

Very little is understood about the relationship between COVID-19 and parosmia. It may not seem as urgent as other long-term symptoms of COVID such as heart problems, depression, and respiratory illness. However, physicians say it can be problematic.

“Your sense of smell is important,” Orlandi says. “It’s what helps you enjoy food and sense danger, as in the case of smoke. It’s connected to our memories, such as the way your mom or grandma’s perfume smells. Depending on the severity, this condition can range from an annoyance to a frustrating and anxiety-inducing symptom.”

How long does parosmia last?

It’s not known exactly why COVID-19 leads to parosmia. It’s believed most people who experience this symptom also experienced a loss of taste and smell while they were sick. It’s also unknown how long it lasts. One study suggests the condition can last up to six months, but the average duration is around three months.

Is there a treatment for parosmia?

While there is no known treatment for COVID-19-induced parosmia, some believe so-called smell therapy may help. This process involves smelling strong scents such as citrus, perfume, ammonia, or eucalyptus each day to re-train the brain to “remember” how to smell. More study is needed to know if this therapy actually works. In the meantime, avoiding offending scent triggers may be the best way to cope with the condition. But doctors are hopeful that, in a majority of cases, a normal sense of smell will return in time. 

“Right now, so little is known about the long-term effects of COVID-19,” Orlandi says. “This is just one of the many long-term symptoms doctors and researchers are studying. All we really know is that the majority of patients do experience a return of their normal senses of taste and smell, but it’s unclear if and how many patients will get fully back to normal.”

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