Many people who have contracted the Covid-19 virus experience the loss of smell and taste; some experience an alteration in these senses for months after recovery.
The loss of smell and taste is a post-COVID symptom that may seem insignificant in comparison to more serious symptoms such as difficulty breathing, heart palpitations, or fatigue, but it should not be ignored.
All five senses work together to create a complex and meaningful understanding of life. The olfactory sense is one of the oldest senses, and it plays a significant role in a person’s emotional experience and memory.
If you are like me, you may have taken the simple pleasures of smell and taste for granted. Through my experience with Covid-19, I have begun to fully comprehend how smell, and to a lesser extent taste, bring joy into my life and connect me with my surroundings.
When I first lost my senses, I found it slightly comical. I wasn’t able to smell wet-dog, so I cuddled my fur babies even when they were stinky. I ate canned soup that had been ignored for months as a way to capitalize on my loss of taste. I joked that the world around me had gone plain, but my laughter soon faded as the days turned into months.
Currently, I am able to smell very strong aromas – like peppermint oil – and I can taste about 50% of what I eat. I am grateful that my senses are slowly returning, yet as time passes I realize that what I miss the most is the smell of everyday life. It is the subtle things that make a difference, the connections that are made without my conscious awareness.
It is difficult to express how Covid-19 has affected me. Not only is it hard to find the words, but talking about it brings up the fear of not knowing how long my symptoms will persist.
People who self identify as Covid-19 long haulers across the country are feeling the same way. They want to know how long they will live with a reduced sensory experience of the world, and they want to know what they can do to improve their lives.
My sister-in-law, a 33-year-old resident of Paso Robles who asked not to be identified for this story, is living with a distorted sense of smell and taste after her encounter with Covid-19.
“I didn’t even know I had Covid until I experienced a distortion of my senses, I didn’t have any other symptoms,” she said. “Six months later and I am still suffering, but not from a lack of smell and taste, now I am experiencing a nasty smell and taste.”
The virus is still new and the long term effects are mostly unknown.
“It seems like doctors still have a lot to learn about Covid,” she said. “I have seen two different doctors and the only thing that I have been told is that it looks like my nerves are shot and the likelihood of my smell and taste coming back completely is not good.”
Not knowing how long post-viral symptoms will last can cause added stress to everyday life.
“My experience has affected me on a daily basis, both emotionally and physically but for the last month I’ve learned to accept it, and I remind myself everyday that I am alive,” she said.
That same optimism is now being heightened with the hope that the Covid-19 vaccination is able to help relieve long hauler symptoms. There are now testimonials from long haulers who report that after they received their second vaccination, they experienced a noticeable decrease, or full resolve, in lingering symptoms.
Rocky E., a 56-year-old homemaker in San Luis Obispo who asked not to be fully identified for this story, carries the same hope.
“It has been 4 months since I lost both my sense of smell and taste, I try to be upbeat and hope my body is slowly healing,” Rocky said. “I received my first dose of the Moderna vaccine, and about a week after I received the shot I felt my sense of smell was better. I can’t say if it was the vaccine or not, but I hope that I continue to regain my senses when I receive my second shot.”
The Covid-19 vaccine could be the promising link for people with post-viral symptoms to be able to connect back into the world with all five senses.