How to beat the loss of smell from COVID-19

One symptom that has been experienced by a number of patients with COVID-19 is the loss or reduction in sense of smell.

A recent study showed that 54.7 per cent of patients who tested positive for COVID-19 suffered from hyposmia (reduced sense of smell) and 36.6 per cent from anosmia (total loss of smell).

Fortunately, the same study also showed that the majority of patients (up to 85 per cent) appear to regain their sense of smell within just 14 days.

However, there are things you can do at home to help recover if you have lost your sense of smell for two weeks or longer. Whilst it might seem like a strange concept, studies have shown that ‘smell training’, or olfactory training as it is known, can be of benefit to sufferers.

One study carried out in 2009, which involved a number of people suffering from anosmia, saw one group take part in smell training and one group not. The results showed that 30 per cent of those who undertook the training experienced an improvement in their sense of smell.

By focusing specifically on improving your sense of smell, you can potentially help to recover your ability to smell through repeated short-term exposure to particular odours.

Smell training is essentially actively sniffing selected scents every day, spending around 20 seconds on each scent and concentrating on what you are smelling.

It is recommended by doctors and anyone can do it at home by following these simple steps

  • Select your scents – traditional studies use essential oils (rose, lemon, eucalyptus and clove) but there is no reason why you can’t choose your own essential oils based on your own preferences.
  • Hold your chosen scent close to your nose (approximately one inch away) and slowly inhale naturally. (Sniffing too quickly most likely will not result in detecting any smells.)
  • After 20 seconds, move the scent away from you and take some deep breaths before moving on to the next chosen smell and repeat as above.

You could modify your olfactory training

  • We would recommend start using something that you are familiar with, you remember the smell of. These scents can be found around your home, such as ground coffee, garlic or spices from your kitchen.
  • Hold your chosen scent close to your nose, close your eyes, imagine the smell and slowly inhale naturally.
  • Repeat the same exercise but with your eyes open.
  • Move on to the next chosen smell.

And here are some top tips to try and help you with your smell training

  • The training should be undertaken at least twice a day. You could put the scents next to your bed to remind you to do your training first thing in the morning and last thing at night.
  • Relax and make sure you’re inhaling naturally.
  • Try to persevere – if any improvements are to made, they are unlikely to be instant. So be patient and stick with it.
  • The minimum period of smell training is three to four months. A study from 2016 found that continuing with smell training for a whole year has the most results.
  • Changing the smells every four weeks has shown to be beneficial too.
  • You could continue stimulating your olfactory system by paying attention to smells when you are carrying out everyday tasks such as cooking and taking laundry out of the washing machine.

How does it work?

Olfactory nerves are like wires between the nose and the brain. These nerves can get damaged by for example a sinus infection or by trauma to the head. These nerves can repair themselves and carrying out smell training can help to improve the recovery time.

Keeping track of your training

To keep a track of your smell training you can use this simple self-assessment tool, which enables you to note down any developments in changes to your sense of smell.

Whilst studies have shown that around 15 per cent of patients may experience anosmia for a longer period of time, smell training is thought to aid recovery and encourage your sense of smell to return.

However, the effectiveness of smell training will depend on person to person. Therefore, it is important to see it as an aid to your recovery and a way to encourage your sense of smell to return, rather than as a replacement for medical examination or treatment should this be needed.

Safety precautions

Another thing to remember if you are suffering from anosmia is that you will need to take some extra safety precautions in and around your home as you won’t be able to smell potentially dangerous smells. These could include fires, poisonous fumes, leaking gas and food that has gone off. Take a look at this safety advice for more information about how you can keep yourself and others around you safe.

If you think you might be suffering from this symptom or any other symptoms linked to COVID-19, click here for information about what procedures you should follow.

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