‘It’s all repulsive’: Colorado woman’s sense of smell distorted after having COVID-19

Published: Oct. 18, 2021 at 12:01 AM MDT|Updated: Oct. 18, 2021 at 5:38 AM MDT
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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) - Imagine flavors in foods you love get replaced with an unbearable taste and smell. It’s a lesser-known side effect from COVID-19 that doctors are seeing in some patients. And it’s the reality for one Colorado Springs woman.

In July of 2020, Savanah Hunter was diagnosed with COVID-19. She lost her sense of taste and smell for about two months. It’s a condition known as anosmia.

When her taste and smell returned, it was never the same. Many things are now rancid.

“Other people’s breath, other people’s cologne, other people’s deodorant. It’s all repulsive,” said Hunter.

She is now experiencing parosmia. It’s a health condition that distorts people’s sense of smell.

“Showering is disgusting. It smells like we’re washing ourselves in rancid meat water,” said Hunter.

Parosmia can also affect perception of taste. The condition can be caused by respiratory viruses like COVID-19

“Unfortunately, it is not uncommon. What we see is damage to the nerves that control our sense of smell,” said Dr. Jennifer Decker, UCHealth ears, nose and throat specialist.

Hunter has been dealing with parosmia for nearly 14 months.

“It affects every aspect of your life. I had a newborn son at the time. I’ve never gotten to smell him, ever, for what he actually smells like,” said Hunter.

She can no longer eat without wearing a nose plug.

“It’s really rough. Like we can’t go to restaurants anymore. I haven’t been to a restaurant in over a year. Like I said I have to do grocery pick up because going to the grocery store is awful,” said Hunter.

She says parosmia can be very isolating. What’s helped her through this is a Parosmia Post-COVID Facebook Support Group. It’s 28,000 members strong, from all over the world.

“People, they just aren’t understanding that it’s affecting things. We’re losing people in our group to suicide, threatening of suicide. It’s just so life-altering, and people are just not realizing what it’s doing to us,” said Hunter.

That’s why Hunter is sharing her story.

“Just try to be sympathetic and just try to understand. Don’t laugh at people. It’s a true medical condition, and it’s life-changing and it’s awful,” said Hunter.

Decker says at this point there is no surgical treatment for parosmia. Patients can try smell retraining. It’s where they smell a familiar odor from the four major categories: floral, citrus, spice and resin. And do this everyday to try to remember the smell.

“So trying to actually activate the fact that the central nerves are closely associated with our memory. So that we are trying to re-link those nerves as they are healing to appropriate memories. Right? So that you’re not smelling something and getting the wrong perception,” said Decker.

However, smell retraining doesn’t work for everyone and hasn’t worked for Hunter. While some people fully recover, Decker says others may not.

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