Coronavirus Destroyed Your Sense of Smell? Skip the Steroids and Retrain Your Sniffer Instead

So it finally happened. Covid-19 visited my house with a vengeance. My 12-year old daughter got mild head-cold symptoms first, and I was the second to get hit. Then my 10-year old son came down with the sniffles, followed closely by my 8-year old little girl. Tho truth-be-told, none of us felt too awful, and that grumpy ol’ virus hardly kept us down.

But my teenage boys were the next in line, and I had to restrain myself from eye-rolling: “Really, guys? Ya’ seriously need to stay in bed all day? C’mon, it’s not that bad….” It seemed silly to call them in sick from school – online school at home, mind you – cause I just thought they were being wimps. I mean it doesn’t take a whole lotta energy to drag yourself 6 feet away from bed and sit at a computer, right? Apparently I was wrong.

My husband was the last to get it. And ohhhh did he get it. By the second day of his raging fever and body aches I was apologizing to my teenage boys; I obviously hadn’t understood how bad it could get. Their daddy could hardly drag himself out of bed just to go sip a cup of water and throw back another dose of Tylenol. Now the thing is, my husband is decidedly not a wimp. He was a professional cyclist when we met, is still an avid athlete, and whether he’s building a bunk-bed or hiking a 14er or running a 10k race or helping his buddy move into a new house – he is probably the most driven, hard-working, pain-enduring guy in all of Colorado.

And then he couldn’t taste or smell anything.

He mentioned it on about day five of his bout with our rotten coronavirus guest, and I was a teensy-tinesy bit doubtful. So I pulled out a bottle of apple-cider vinegar. We passed it around, each taking a big sniff and then grimacing from the pungent, eye-watering aroma. But my hubby took it even further: when he couldn’t detect even the faintest whiff, he tipped the bottle up and took a big swig. Then another.

Nothing. No sense of smell, no sense of taste. Not. A. Thing.

Two weeks later, when our tests came back negative for SARS-CoV-2, but positive for the antibodies we were really glad to finally bid farewell to that unwanted and unwelcome Covid-19 houseguest. Yet my husband still couldn’t smell or taste a thing. He was diligently chewing his veggies and sipping his soup, but his pants were getting decidedly droopy. Ten pounds down in three weeks on a guy who doesn’t have anything to lose is just kinda creepy, let me tell you. It was time to kick that sniffer back into work-mode.

Systemic corticosteroids were the obvious and easy choice, and although previously prescribed for olfactory dysfunction, they can have disturbing side effects. Thankfully new research published by the International Forum of Allergy & Rhinology offered a promising alternative: smell training! While most Covid-19 sufferers will eventually spontaneously recover their sense of smell, this can take up to six months. Scientists now show that smell-training can improve and speed up this recovery, with a systematic process of sniffing four distinct odors at least two times per day for several months. The research study authors conclude: “Based on the available evidence, olfactory training is a recommendation for the treatment of PVOD [Post Viral Olfactory Dysfunction].”

This is certainly good news for my self-proclaimed “foodie” husband, who doesn’t need to lose any weight from a sense-less Covid-induced diet. I’m confident he’ll be back to grimacing at the sour smell of apple-cider vinegar again in no time…and able to enjoy the sweet smell of fresh-picked apples just in time for autumn harvest!

Terissa Michele Miller, MS Psy

Check out the original research:

This article was originally published in Modern Brain Journal.

About the author:
Teri Miller is a mom of nine and child development researcher with a Masters of Science in Psychology. She is a Research Associate at Gibson Institute of Cognitive Research, co-host of the podcast Brainy Moms, and the Managing Editor at Modern Brain Journal.