What learning to smell, taste is like after COVID-19

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Do-Rite Donuts are among Chicagoan Brittany Fromm's favorite foods, but since she got COVID-19 last year, water smells like bleach, red wine tastes like gasoline, and her favorite donuts are essentially flavorless.

"It's sad that food doesn't taste the same anymore," said Fromm, 29. "Donuts are my favorite, and now you only eat it just to go through the motion, you are not being satisfied, you can't enjoy it and you go off memory."

Seven months ago, Fromm instantly lost her sense of smell and taste from the coronavirus, which lasted for several months.

Now she's seeing Dr. Bobby Tajudeen, Rush University Medical Center's head of Rhinology and Skull Base Surgery.

Dr. Tajudeen said, on average, 78% of COVID patients with smelling loss get back to their baseline smell - or back to normal - in about a month. But 22% of the patients, like Fromm, experience smelling loss longer than four weeks.

"If you are having issues after four weeks, feel free to reach out to a doctor just to make sure, some of the issues are correctable and getting to that earlier is better for recovery," Dr. Tajudeen said.

Dr. Tajudeen said some COVID survivors who have a loss of smell longer than four weeks may be experiencing pre-existing conditions like allergies, sinus problems or infections, or other undisclosed diagnosis that COVID may have triggered.

The doctor said Fromm had a history of allergies that may have impacted her case.

Now Dr. Tajudeen has Fromm on smell therapy, using oils, like clove and lemon, to exercise her smell nerves.

"If you don't use your smell nerves, they actually begin to degenerate, but if you stimulate them, you can actually regenerate the smell nerves," he said.

Fromm is on anti-inflammatory medication as well. She's also trying to connect emotionally to smells; the donut is a childhood memory.

"It reminds me of my childhood, with like Cinnamon Toast Crunch, in a cereal, in a donut form," she said. "I try to just remember the taste of it, and enjoy it as much as I can, even though it's very hard."

It's not just about the food. Fromm also has safety concerns about her smell loss.

"Growing up you're always taught to smell for smoke, or smell for gas, but now I can't smell for smoke or gas," she said.

Dr. Tajudeen says she's making progress. The results of her first smell test concluded she had total loss of smell. Her most recent smell test showed signs of improvement.

Still, Fromm is eager to get her sense of smell and taste back to the time before she had COVID, especially when it comes to food.

"Success for me," she said, "is just being able to enjoy the food again."
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