Doctors use smell training exercises to help some COVID-19 patients recover their lost senses

WINTER PARK, Fla. — Could you imagine snacks like popcorn and pizza tasting nasty?

That’s a reality for some people recovering from COVID-19.

A specialist in Central Florida is retraining COVID-19 survivors to love their favorite foods again.

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Since the pandemic started, many people who got sick have reported a loss of taste and smell as one of the first symptoms of the virus.

Sometimes, that loss lingers even after they’ve fought off the virus.

Re-learning how to recognize smells and flavors is just part of the long road to recovery.

Channel 9 spoke with an ear, nose, and throat specialist to see how she’s helping restore those senses to people who have recovered from COVID-19.

After this year’s COVID-19 summer surge, one local ENT is seeing more patients coming in for help than before.

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For almost everyone, their favorite meals and snacks make them happy. But what if they couldn’t taste it anymore?

“It was just like completely gone,” said Josh Siddens, who lost his sense of taste and smell. “It’s strange.”

That’s the reality for so many when they are fighting COVID-19.

Siddens noticed it back in May while eating his favorite pizza.

“I got into like the third slice, and I was like, ‘Man, I’m not tasting any of this at all,’” he said.

That was the giveaway. Siddens had a mild case of COVID-19. He was tired and fatigued, but he fought it off.

The souvenir of his sickness – a lasting loss of smell and taste.

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“It’s very disruptive,” said Winter Park ENT Dr. Hao Tran. “We’re definitely seeing a lot more patients now with loss of smell and taste.”

Tran said lingering symptoms can also progress into something else.

“They can develop what’s called parosmia, which is where you get abnormal smell when you think you’re smelling like a lemon. But then it smells like a dirty diaper,” Tran said.

Siddens is dealing with just that.

“My toothpaste taste terrible, and my shampoo smells really weird,” Siddens said.

The why in all this is still being studied. But now, it’s clearer who gets impacted by these symptoms.

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“It can affect up to 2 out of 3 patients who develop COVID in the young population. So that’s the 20s and 30s,” Tran said.

She said patients who have more moderate or even severe COVID-19 are less affected by this.

So how do you fix this? That’s the ultimate question, but it’s not a simple answer.

There’s no magic pill that can make these symptoms go away.

Doctors are having their patients undergo smell training exercises.

“You can use essential oils, and you’d pick for strong sense that you have some type of familiarity with like coffee, lemon, eucalyptus, and you do those smell exercises twice a day for about 15 seconds per smell,” Tran said. “We’ve definitely seen patients recover quicker.”

A new study showed 95% of patients regained their sense of smell and taste within six months.

Tran said sometimes she will also prescribe a nasal spray or an oral steroid.

See more in the video above.

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