Three years have passed since the start of the Covid pandemic, and chances are you either know someone who had Covid-19 infection or you had Covid yourself. For many, the symptoms of Covid are mild and include fever, chills, lethargy, body aches, headache, and loss of taste and smell.
For people with mild cases of Covid-19 symptoms tend to only linger for a few days up to a week before completely resolving, and the person feels fully recovered. However, more and more, we are learning of people who develop something called anosmia or parosmia, which is a loss of smell or loss of taste after Covid.
Smell is a sense we tend to take for granted. Yet, every day, we use our sense of smell to interpret the world around us- from the smells in the air to the scent of our food. So a loss or impairment of our sense of smell can be confusing and lead to other issues, such as depression and other health risks (1).
Since the pandemic’s start, the persistent loss or impairment of senses after Covid has baffled scientists. Recent research has shown that a surprising intervention has successfully treated parosmia, even after other failed treatments. Now, many people are wondering if this procedure is appropriate for them.
What is parosmia?
Parosmia is a condition in which a person’s sense of smell is impaired. For some, smells that were once pleasant or scentless now smell putrid or rotten. Parosmia is different from anosmia, a complete loss of smell, and hyposmia, a hindered ability to smell as a person’s sense of smell is intact but working incorrectly.
One study (2) estimated that 7% of people who experience a loss of smell during Covid develop parosmia as loss of smell during Covid is a precursor to later developing parosmia. However, there also seems to be a connection between age and gender in determining who is at risk for developing parosmia. According to another study that included 268 people, over 70% of people with parosmia were females under 30 (3).
What causes parosmia?
Researchers are not sure of the exact mechanism that leads to parosmia following Covid; however, some theories are that inflammation in the roof of our nose contributes to this disturbance of our sense of smell, while another idea is that Covid causes damage to nerve endings involved in our perception of scent. While our body will repair these nerve endings eventually- it can take some time to get back to normal
Other health issues that can also cause Parosmia include: (3)
● Upper respiratory and sinus infections
● Exposure to toxins
● Head injuries that damage the olfactory (or smell) center of the brain
● Neurological conditions like Parkinson’s and epilepsy
What do people smell with parosmia?
As highlighted before, parosmia is not an absence of smell but rather a distortion of scents. So, foods and other items that may be scentless or have a pleasant aroma will smell unpleasant to a person with parosmia.
Some of the smells that people have reported are: (3)
● Smoke or burnt scents
● Rotten food
● Ammonia or vinegar
● Metallic smell
● Moldy socks
What is the impact of parosmia after Covid-19?
Unfortunately, one’s sense of smell is not the only thing affected by parosmia. Because we rely on our sense of smell for many things, there are some other long-term effects of parosmia that people don’t often talk about. (1)
● Food safety concerns
● Sense of taste
● Strained relationship and socialization
● Mental health concerns
How long does parosmia last?
The length of time someone has parosmia seems different for everyone. For example, some people report that their sense of smell returned to normal after three months, while others say it takes up to six months to return to normal.
One study (2) found that 96% of participants experiencing parosmia eventually returned to normal after 12 months, which means as much as 4% of the participants in the study continued dealing with parosmia even after the year mark.
What are some Parosmia treatments after Covid
So, how can i get my taste back after covid parosmia? Because researchers believe that a primary cause of parosmia is damage to the nose’s nerve endings and smell receptors, many covid smell recovery treatments focus on reducing inflammation to promote healing and cell regeneration.
Here are some options for how to fix parosmia after covid (3):
Smell training is what the name implies. You’re re-training your nose to identify smells correctly. You can use essential oils or household items for this treatment. For this training, you’ll pick four scents.
- Ground coffee
To start, you will gently sniff each of the four chosen scents for approximately 20 seconds each, being sure to do that six times a day. It is usual for the scents to smell like something else at first if you’re experiencing parosmia; however, you should eventually begin to sense the correct scent as you go.
Saline sprays and washes with a Neti pot
Using saline sprays with a Neti pot after Covid may help treat parosmia (2). Moreover, since lingering mucus or debris in the nose and sinuses may be causing inflammation, saline sprays and washes with the Neti pot can help remove it and reduce the inflammation (4).
Here are a few tips for using a Neti pot:
- Be sure to use filtered or boiled water. Do not use tap water. Most stores sell distilled or sterile water.
- You can make your saline solution; however, most store-bought Neti pots have a pre-made solution that can dissolve into your water.
- Never use cold solutions for irrigation. The solution should be room temperature to lukewarm.
- Always wash the Neti pot before and after each use.
Certain foods, such as onions, meat, and eggs, aggravate people’s parosmia more than others. Hence, avoiding these foods can help reduce symptoms. In addition, cold or room-temperature foods can help as heating food can increase the aroma. Lastly, avoid places with more intense fragrances, such as malls or restaurants (2).
Stellate Ganglion Block Injections
Lastly, there’s a new treatment that has been making waves when it comes to regaining taste after covid.
Through various studies, researchers now understand that dysautonomia (or inappropriate nervous system response) is often responsible for what we now call long-haul Covid. Normally, our body launches an immune response whenever there’s an “invasion” from bacteria, viruses, fungi, etc. This reaction is called a pro-inflammatory response, but the body usually returns to normal once the “intruder” is addressed.
However, in the case of long Covid, this proinflammatory response remains elevated, leading to ongoing symptoms, such as fever, sleep disturbances, anosmia, shortness of breath, and parosmia (5).
More recently, healthcare professionals are finding that stellate ganglion blocks, which have long been used as a treatment for other conditions caused by an inappropriate nervous system response- are successful in reducing the prolonged inflammatory response associated with parosmia (5).
What is a stellate ganglion block?
The nerve points all over the body make up our nervous system. One, in particular, is the stellate ganglion on the front side of our neck near the voice box. This nerve point is responsible for many functions in the head and neck, including taste and smell (6).
During a stellate ganglion block (SGB), the patient receives medication through an IV to help calm them. The doctor then preps the skin and inserts a needle into the neck near the vocal cords to numb the area.
Then, using an ultrasound, the doctor inserts a catheter into the neck to the nerve to inject an anesthetic medication. This medication then reduces the nerve’s innervation (or activity) in hopes that long Covid symptoms, such as anosmia, ageusia (loss of taste), and parosmia improve (6).
What are the benefits of a stellate ganglion block?
Case studies on the effect of SGB on long Covid symptoms (5) have resulted in patients who almost immediately experience an improvement in their ongoing symptoms- most notably their sense of smell and taste and debilitating fatigue. And although the use of SBG for symptomatic long Covid is still a novel concept, the evidence is promising.
Stellate ganglion block at SGB Docs
Our doctors at SGB Docs have a combined 40 years of experience in treating patients with various health issues, from chronic pain and illnesses to mental health concerns. Dr. Sudhir Rao and Dr. Jyothi Rao, a brother and sister medical team, have successfully opened and run several medical practices starting in 2012.
In 2022, in partnership with Pain and Spine Specialists, the team added SGB Injections for long covid to their repertoire. From pain management to primary care, the collaboration between our doctors allows patients to meet all of their medical needs.
At SGB Docs, our team will guide you through receiving a stellate ganglion block and will be there to answer any questions you have before and after. Not only do our prices beat the competitors, but we also offer financial assistance and a discount for two injections. With locations in MD, VA, and PA, there are plenty of options for receiving the care you deserve.