A Lost Sense Of Smell

The rich, earthy smell of freshly ground coffee on a crisp winter morning. The bright fragrance of a glass of orange juice, or the heady aroma of an uncorked bottle of shiraz. The over-the-top scented assault of lavender vanilla hand soap, or the utterly clean whiff of a freshly laundered bath towel. The smell of wood smoke from a neighbor’s chimney. These are little things that add color and flavor to our lives and that people with working noses take for granted.

But among us are people who have been infected with COVID who have lost their sense of smell. A year into the epidemic, many of us know people who have survived their bout with the coronavirus, and they often report that the strangest symptom of the disease–and the one that made them realize they’ve got the ‘rona in the first place–is the sudden absence of smells in their world. And the loss of the sense of smell (called anosmia) also can produce a lost sense of taste (called dysgeusia), which means victims of the virus may lose two of their familiar senses at the same time. And some unfortunate victims of the disease develop parosmia, in which the ability to detect smells gets scrambled, so that a flower might smell like an open sewer.

For some victims, the sense of smell comes back quickly as they recuperate from their exposure, but for others the anosmia or parosmia lingers on and on. You can get a sense of the extent of that problem by running searches on regaining sense of smell, which produces lots of hits. Doctors and hospitals have featured links on Google about the condition and their treatments, and there are first-person accounts about the battle to get the olfactory senses working again. The Los Angeles Times recently ran an article that described the sweeping range of potential treatments that people who are desperate to return to normal can try — which might include CAT scans, steroids, and aromatherapy. And the LA Times piece indicates that some victims will try just about anything.

Those of us who have dodged the COVID bullet can’t really imagine what this condition is like, and I certainly hope that I never find out through personal experience. But it’s also a reminder that, when victory is declared in the war on the coronavirus, there will still be people out there suffering from its after-effects, and wondering if their world will ever get back to the way it was before the pandemic hit.

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