Covid Stole Your Sense of Smell? Try Physical Therapy for Your Nose.

Doctors are recommending smell training for patients with lingering olfactory problems.

Credit…Patricia Voulgaris for The New York Times

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By Christina Caron

When Laura Drager contracted Covid-19 in July, it was as though someone had suddenly muted her olfactory system.

One morning she was sipping her favorite Gatorade (the yellow one), and two hours later the drink was completely flavorless. She immediately lit a candle and blew it out, but she couldn’t smell the smoke.

Her sense of smell had disappeared. Now, she said, “everything either tastes like bleach or tastes like nothing.”

Over the past few months she has lost 19 pounds. “I don’t have that ‘I’m hungry’ feeling,” said Ms. Drager, 41, who lives in Sevierville, Tenn., about 45 minutes from Knoxville. “I think you forget how much smell and taste is a part of your life until it goes away.”

As the coronavirus continues to spread, there are increasing numbers of people who have either lost their senses of smell after contracting Covid or are struggling with parosmia, a disturbing disorder that causes previously normal odors to develop a new, often unpleasant aroma.

One meta-analysis published in September found that as many as 77 percent of those who had Covid were estimated to have some form of smell loss as a result of their infections.

The recommended treatment for these conditions is smell training. But how exactly do you do it, and why should you bother?

We spoke with several experts to demystify the process.

What is smell training?

First, let’s talk about what smell training is not. If the words conjure up images of a “Rocky” training montage — as they did for Tejal Rao, a New York Times restaurant critic who lost her sense of smell after contracting Covid last year — the reality is very different. Smell training is more akin to physical therapy for your nose: tedious and repetitive. It involves sniffing several potent scents twice a day, sometimes for months, to stimulate and restore the olfactory system — or at the very least to help it function better.

“It’s not a quick fix,” said Chrissi Kelly, a member of the Global Consortium for Chemosensory Research and the founder of AbScent, a nonprofit based in England and Wales that offers support and education to people around the world who have smell disorders. “You have to keep up with it.”

If it has been a couple of weeks since you lost your sense of smell and it hasn’t started to come back, then it makes sense to start smell training. When your smell starts to come back, it might happen gradually rather than all at once. At first, scents might seem distorted or foul.

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