For many who have recovered from Covid-19, one of the most depressing and debilitating longterm effects is the loss of the sense of smell and taste.
Being deprived of the pleasures of food and the scents of familiar things are tough on the body and mind, and without odours both good and bad, many people lose weight and self-confidence.
A year into the pandemic, doctors and researchers are still striving to better understand and treat the accompanying epidemic of Covid-19-related anosmia – loss of smell – which drains much of the joy of life from an increasing number of sensorially frustrated longer-term sufferers.
There is much about the condition doctors still don’t know and they are learning as they go along, the Associated Press reports.
Loss and alteration of smell have become so common with Covid-19 that some researchers suggest that simple odour tests could be used to track infections in countries with few laboratories.
For most people, the olfactory problems are temporary, often improving on their own in weeks. But a small minority complain of persistent dysfunction long after other symptoms have disappeared. Some have reported continued total or partial loss of smell six months to a year after infection.
Some doctors are concerned that growing numbers of smell-deprived patients could be more prone to depression.
“They are losing colour in their lives,” said Thomas Hummel, who heads the smell and taste outpatients clinic at University Hospital in Dresden, Germany. “They will survive and perhaps be successful, but their lives will be much poorer.”
Losing the sense of smell can be more than a mere inconvenience. Smoke from a spreading fire, a gas leak, or the stink of rotten food can all pass dangerously unnoticed. Fumes from a used diaper, dog dirt on a shoe or sweaty armpits can go untreated.
“Eating no longer has any purpose for me,” said one sufferer. “It’s just a waste of time.”
“Sometimes I ask myself, ’Do I stink?’” said another. “Normally, I wear perfume and like things to smell nice. Not being able to smell bothers me greatly.”
“The sense of smell is a sense that is fundamentally forgotten. We don’t realise the effect it has on our lives except, obviously, when we no longer have it,” a researcher said.
“One might think that it is not important to be able to smell nature, trees, forests,” he said. “But when you lose the ability to do so, you realise how truly lucky we are to be able to smell these things.”
Shakespeare said, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Millions of recovered Covid-19 patients wish it were that easy.