Parosmia Can Wreak Havoc On Your Sense Of Smell After You've Had COVID

by Colleen Dilthey Thomas
Originally Published: 
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My husband recently had COVID. And frighteningly, he was pretty sick, but thankfully stayed out of the hospital. He had a terrible cough that left him with little energy after being up all night. He didn’t have much of an appetite, but when he did eat, he was thankful not to have lost his sense of taste and smell. This is a fairly common COVID symptom, and quite honestly, we expected it to happen any day. But it never did. We thought he was in the clear, and then things took a weird turn.

I was making dinner: fried rice, a pretty simple meal that my whole family will eat, major win! The recipe is very easy, some peas and carrots, a few green onions, an egg, rice, soy sauce and shrimp sautéed in butter and garlic. That’s it. He had just completed his isolation and joined us in the kitchen for the first time in 14 days. He began to wrinkle his nose and said, “My God, how many onions did you use?” I replied that I hadn’t used any, less the couple of green onions in the garnish. He said that the smell was so overwhelming that he had to leave the room. Weird, right?

I figured that it was just maybe the garlic, or being in the kitchen for the first time in two weeks and let it go. The next morning my son was fixing himself a Pop Tart, and again my husband was complaining of a strong grilled onion smell. This time I knew for sure that something was up. There wasn’t an onion anywhere. I had read about weird things happening to your senses after COVID and this is one of them, it’s called parosmia.

Put simply, parosmia is when your sense of smell becomes distorted. And it really isn’t all that uncommon. It can make things have a strange odor, like cooked onions, or even a garbage-type smell. Unfortunately because smell and taste are linked, sometimes it can make your food taste bad too. That can be a big bummer. Some of your favorite foods could become totally intolerable.


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According to Healthline, parosmia can be brought on by a number of things. It is linked to COVID through respiratory infections and sinus problems. It can also be caused by head injuries, exposure to toxins, and Parkinson’s, epilepsy and other neurological conditions.

People with parosmia often have secondary effects like weight loss, depression and decreased appetite. When it comes to COVID, parosmia may be a long-haul COVID symptom, which is defined as a symptom lasting more than four weeks. Parosmia often presents itself as smelling like sewage or garbage, rotten meat or eggs, smoke or burnt smells, gasoline, metallic scents, ammonia or vinegar, skunk, or moldy socks. Because parosmia distorts your sense of smell, it can prove problematic in emergencies and not being able to smell things like fire.

In a May 2021 study, it was reported that study participants with parosmia had symptoms lasting between nine days and six months. The average case was three to four months. It is believed that COVID causes parosmia by damaging the receptors and nerves that control our sense of smell. While this can improve over time, there is no exact during or cure.

So what do you do if you have parosmia? Healthline offers a few things that you can try.

  • Try Smell Training. This involves smelling specific scents for 20 seconds at a time twice a day for a period of three months or longer. Common types of scents used in smell training are fruity, flowery, spicy, and resinous.
  • Try to stay away from foods that trigger parosmia such as meat, fish, and onions.
  • Stick to a bland diet that incorporates essential nutrients.
  • Keep your foods cold. Heat can trigger your sense of smell.
  • Try to steer clear of places that are rich in scents, restaurants, grocery stores, flower shops or perfume counters.
  • Keep the windows open to help get rid of strong scents in your home or car.

While you may not be able to cure parosmia, you can manage it. By trying the above tips, you may be able to regain your sense of smell or at the very least, become more tolerant of these types of scents. We say it time and again, but to help avoid parosmia and all other COVID symptoms, wash your hands, wear a mask, and get a vaccine to protect yourself.

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