Six ways long-term smell loss can affect you

A recent study showed that twelve to eighteen months after getting COVID-19, up to 46% of people are still going through a clinical reduction in their sense of smell.

But what are the consequences of long-term smell loss on daily life?

According to a neuroscientist, problems can consist of challenges with food safety, weight, relationships and mental health. Smell training would improve olfactory functions over time.

When the pandemic began, a lot of studies indicated that a lot of people that have been infected with COVID lost their sense of smell at some point during infection. This is called anosmia.

Approximately an additional 20% to 35% experienced a clinical reduction in their ability to smell. This is called hyposmia.

Even though more recent evidence reveals that omicron might not result in a smell loss as much as earlier variants, given that more than half a billion individuals have had at least one of the variants to date, that still means they are millions of people who have probably experienced this condition to an extent.

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Sometimes, the loss of smell may be a temporary loss of function. However, a sizable portion of individuals will experience longer-term problems. A recent study reveals that 12 to 18 months after the preliminary COVID diagnosis, 34% to 46% of people still experience a clinical reduction in their sense of smell. Most of these people, however, do not know about this.

A similar problem is parosmia. This is a situation where a person’s awareness of odors changes, often finding they become more unpleasant. The study suggests that up to 47% of people who have had COVID could be affected. As with loss of smell, many people with parosmia are inclined to heal over time. Yet some could experience longer-lasting problems.

COVID may not be the only condition that can result in the loss of smell. For instance, it can also be caused by other viruses or infections, head trauma, or a spectrum of neurodegenerative diseases. Even though the evidence on post-COVID smell loss is still emerging, data from other types of olfactory dysfunction has given us an idea of some of the effects that long-term smell loss can have on an individual’s everyday life.

Here are some problems people who have lost their sense of smell are likely to encounter;

  • They are likely to consume spoiled food because it is the smell of a meal that warns one when something has gone off. This would increase the risk of food poisoning.
  • Apart from the taste sensations that are sweet, salty, bitter, sour and umami, almost all of what individuals experience as taste is generated by odours penetrating the odour receptors in the nose through the oral-nasal passage in the back of the throat. Without a sense of smell, most of what we eat will be tasteless
  • Not being able to smell may lead to loss of appetite. 
  • Most people with a newly acquired smell disorder would likely  lose weight. Other people  can experience a non-conscious change in their eating behaviour and frequently start gaining weight. This can result in ​long-term heart problems and other related health issues.
  • Various researches have indicated that a poor sense of smell is associated with a reduction in reported social interactions, quantity of friends and sexual enjoyment.
  • People with smell dysfunction often report symptoms of depression.

In case you lose your smell and want to recover it, you can begin smell training yourself by trying to perceive common household odours. If you don’t notice an obvious improvement after six weeks of training, you need to contact a healthcare professional for an evaluation.

The only treatment that has some effectiveness is smell training. This is a bit like physiotherapy for the nose and comprises exposure therapy, where the patient would be asked to smell a range of odours for about 20 minutes, each morning and evening, over two to three months.

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