At first, the most common symptoms of coronavirus we were warned to look out for were a fever and a persistent cough. But a few months into the pandemic, in May 2020, the UK officially added loss of smell and taste to the list, as it became increasingly clear this too was a hallmark of COVID-19.
While most cases of coronavirus remain mild and patients recover on their own, we know from statistics that some people continue to suffer the symptoms long after first contracting the virus. Estimates made by the ZOE COVID Tracker app suggest that around 12% of UK coronavirus patients suffer symptoms for longer than 30 days, while one in 200 report the effects of the virus lasting for more than 90 days - known as 'Long COVID'.
Losing your sense of smell is one of the coronavirus symptom that is known to linger. Around one in five people continued to notice a reduced sense eight weeks after first getting the virus, and it's a frustrating one to endure. Not being able to get a whiff of warm baked bread or freshly ground coffee as you walk past your local café is the loss of one of life's little pleasures, and with so much of our taste bound in our ability to smell, it can also prevent you from enjoying some of the foods you love.
So, how do you get your sense of smell back after losing it due to coronavirus? Luckily, the experts have some advice.
A study published last month from the University of East Anglia (UEA) in conjunction with numerous other global universities showed 'smell training' is a far superior method of regaining a sense of smell than corticosteroids, which are a type of drug that lower inflammation in the body.
Smell training involves sniffing at least four different odours twice a day for several months, and is believed to be more effective at building the sense back up. Smell loss expert Professor Carl Philpott, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, explained: "Corticosteroids are a class of drug that lowers inflammation in the body. Doctors often prescribe them to help treat conditions such as asthma, and they have been considered as a therapeutic option for smell loss caused by COVID-19. What we found that there is very little evidence that corticosteroids will help with smell loss. And because they have well known potential adverse side effects, our advice is that they should not be prescribed as a treatment for post-viral smell loss."
The expert went on to note that most people who experience smell loss as a result of coronavirus will regain the sense "spontaneously," but noted that smell training could be helpful. "It has emerged as a cheap, simple and side-effect free treatment option for various causes of smell loss, including COVID-19. It aims to help recovery based on neuroplasticity - the brain’s ability to reorganise itself to compensate for a change or injury," said Professor Philpott.
On an optimistic note, the professor also added that research suggests 90% of people who lose their sense of smell from COVID will go on to fully recover it within after six months. So hang in there, you'll be satisfyingly sniffing that blue cheese again before you know it.
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