In COVID-19, the sense of smell can diminish, vanish, or oddly skew, for weeks or months. The loss usually starts suddenly and is more than the temporarily dulled chemical senses of a stuffy nose from the common cold. As researchers followed up mounting reports of loss of olfaction, a surprising source of perhaps the longest-lasting cases emerged: stem cells in the olfactory epithelium.
A Common Symptom
Facebook groups may be ahead of the medical literature in providing vivid descriptions of the loss of olfaction as people swap advice and compare how long they've been unable to smell. The experiences can be bizarre, but at the same time, shared.
A favorite robust wine suddenly has no taste.
A parent must peek into or feel a child's diaper to see if action is needed.
Shower gel reeks, while clean dryer sheets, vinegar, detergent, and bleach have no odor.
Carbonated beverages release an odd, unnamable aroma.
Celebrations suffer as people can't smell birthday cake, pizza, even the stinky hallmark of Passover, gefilte fish.
Many people smell cigarette smoke, although none is around, or dirt, or the stench of rotten coffee grounds or moldy garlic.
Chefs can't smell their food. Runners can't smell their sweat. People fear they won't detect their house on fire.
Some people list the things they can smell, because these are far fewer than the odors that they can't detect.
Medicine has names for the disorders of olfaction. Anosmia is absence of the sense of smell, cacosmia the odor of rot, and phantosmia an "olfactory hallucination."
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