DETROIT – One of the strangest symptoms of COVID is the loss of taste and smell. Some people have discovered that when their senses return it has been altered.
The medical term is parosmia, the condition in which a person’s sense of smell is distorted, generally in a negative way. For example, meat can smell rotten or water can smell like gasoline.
Ben Bell is a Local 4 editor and after months of working on stories about COVID, his entire family caught the virus two weeks before Christmas.
“I was walking around not knowing I had COVID and I was perfectly fine. And then the light bulb went off and I was like, ah, now I see why this is so hard to contain,” Bell said.
Bell’s wife was the hardest hit. Their children didn’t show any symptoms and Bell’s symptoms were mild.
“There was just this weird absence of smell and my nose had this weird sensation to it and so I would get this smell and it just reminded me of COVID,” Bell said.
Any new smell could cause Bell’s senses to misfire.
“Anytime I started cooking food it would hit, you know, going out and when we go hiking. You know, in the wilderness, you get all these smells that would trigger it -- coffee in the morning, breakfast in the morning,” Bell said. “It’s just weird and it’s not something you want to experience.”
Bell said he wasn’t overly concerned until his family took a trip to the Great Smoky Mountains.
“In Tennessee, I was really worried because I was getting it 20 times a day and I think it had something to do with the high altitude,” Bell said.
Temporary loss of smell and taste after COVID is common. One study found 51% of patients still had not fully regained those senses five months after being infected. A different study found about 7 percent of survivors reported a distorted sense of smell.
Some patients get better on their own. Others have reported their symptoms improved after being vaccinated. That’s exactly what happened to Bell.
“I have noticed since I’ve gotten my second dose of the Pfizer vaccine that it has faded away and I don’t get it anymore. And that was something I was hoping for,” Bell said.
Despite the months of unpleasant smells, after a year of seeing the devastation COVID can cause, Bell counts his family among the fortunate.
“I do feel lucky that we got through it OK. We passed through that ring of fire and we’re on the other side of it now,” Bell said.
Many people have recovered from parosmia over time, others have benefited from smell training -- which uses different scents to try and reconnect the brain to the appropriate smell.
If your sense of smell remains altered after COVID, it’s important to talk to your doctor about it.