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Some experiencing Parosmia, a distorted sense of smell, months after COVID recovery

The condition causes things that normally have a pleasant odor to smell foul or rotten.

GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. — When COVID first hit a whole lot of people who became infected talked about how they lost their sense of taste and smell. As knowledge of the virus continues to evolve, others are reporting a different side effect that is having a major impact on some people’s lives.

“The biggest trigger is the food,” says Svetlana Kolesnikova.

It was nearly a year ago that Svetlana contracted COVID.

“All I had was loss of smell. That's all I had,” she says.

Hers was a mild case, and as the months passed Svetlana slowly started to regain her sense of smell. 

But then something happened.

"One morning I was cooking eggs, and honest to God I almost threw up. And I thought, "oh I got bad eggs. I got rotten eggs," so I threw away the whole package,” she says.

It wasn't just the eggs. Chicken, bacon, milk, even the water... it all smelled rotten.

“Every time I would turn the water on, I literally had to clog my nose, and I had to turn away, or literally walked away, the water smelled like rotten food,” says Svetlana.

Svetlana started to think it was all in her head. But the smell was so strong that it started affecting her life. Her marriage. Her health.

“All of the sudden I just stopped eating. I lost 10 pounds within two weeks and I don’t have 10 pounds to lose,” she says.

What Svetlana is experiencing is very real.

“It's called Parosmia. It's a distortion of smell,” says Dr. David Hamlar with HealthPartners.

Dr. Hamlar says for some, Parosmia is a side effect of COVID, though it can be caused by other things like an upper respiratory infection, tumor, or traumatic brain injury. It happens when the olfactory cells in the upper nasal cavity are damaged. Parosmia distorts the smell of usually pleasant things to something foul and unbearable.

“Anytime you have a nerve that's distorted, it's going to interpret its environment differently,” says Dr. Hamlar.

He says the vast majority of people who experience Parosmia are women. Younger in age. And most will recover in a few months without treatment.

Most. 

“I’m on month 17 of this,” says Savanah Hunter.

Parosmia been a very different experience for Savanah.

"It's terrible. I have thrown up in the grocery store multiple times. Pumping gas is awful. The smell of my children, the smell of my husband,” she shares.

Savanah is an admin on the Parosmia Post-COVID Support Group on Facebook. The page was started for people so they don't feel so alone with this condition. What they've learned is that Parosmia seems to be affecting people months after they recover from COVID and the disorder is life-altering, causing eating disorders, depression, even suicide...but there is also some positive news.

"I think from posts that we've seen, the most common amount of time to have it, is anywhere from like three to ten months. And most people seem to heal about at least 85% by that ten-month marker,” Hunter says.

It seems strange to get help from strangers on a medical condition, but the way Parosmia is affecting those with COVID is new.

“It really, really helped me because I felt like I was alone. There was nobody that I know around me that had it or has it, so it would really help me,” recalls Svetlana.

Svetlana is four months in with Parosmia, now having more good days and holding out hope for healing.

“I'm already moving forward, and I'm hoping the nerve will heal up. I don't know if I ever will be the same,” she says.

Research continues on possible treatments, but right now there isn’t much. Some doctors recommend smell training. The folks on the Facebook support group have more suggestions and tips to help, if you are suffering with Parosmia.

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