How I lost and retrained my sense of smell after having Covid-19

One of the stranger symptoms of Covid-19 is parosmia, the distortion of our sense of smell. The Omicron variant has some key different symptoms to the Alpha and Delta variants of Covid-19. But people are still reporting a loss or diminished sense of taste and smell. When delicious. editor Karen Barnes put on her usual perfume one day last year and found it smelled “like engine oil”, she knew something was up…

How I lost and retrained my sense of smell after having Covid-19

It began in March 2020 when I was frying onions and noticed I couldn’t smell a thing – not even a hint. I have an acute sense of smell usually so I was mystified, especially as I didn’t have a cold. When I tasted the dish to season it, there was nothing. The only taste sensation I had was when sipping red wine, which was more to do with the effect of the tannins on the mouth than because I was noting flavour.

At the time, loss of smell and taste wasn’t one of the recognised side-effects of coronavirus and it wasn’t until a week or so later that one of the news briefings mentioned anosmia was being added to the list of official symptoms. I remember looking up in surprise: clearly I’d had Covid-19.

Gradually my sense of smell started to return, but it wasn’t the same. When I sprayed my perfume – a citrussy fragrance I’ve been wearing for years – it smelled harsh, oily and industrial. Frying bacon smelled off. Roses smelled cloying. As someone whose job revolves around food, this was worrying, although I assumed the impairment would ease.

Two months later it was the same. A friend sent a link to an article explaining that when the stem cells in the nasal cavity are damaged, people can be left with a permanently altered sense of smell. I was horrified. I carried on reading and discovered it’s possible to retrain your sense of smell using essential oils, inhaling the intense aromas and, while doing so, focusing and saying to yourself what each smell is – or should be.

I didn’t have any essential oils, the shops were closed and I was too impatient to wait for an online delivery, so I conducted my own experiment using powerful aromas from the garden: rosemary, lavender and sage, crushing them (separately) between my fingers and inhaling deeply. Within two days I noticed an improvement. I continued the regime and, gradually, aromas settled back into the familiar. But not all of them – it was eight months before my perfume smelled the same. Jo Malone Lime, Basil and Mandarin: I love you again, but it was touch and go for a while…

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