(WKRG) — Patients who dealt with COVID-19 are now suffering from a strange long-lasting side effect after recovering, leaving them with an almost constant rancid smell.
Loss of taste and smell are physical symptoms we are used to hearing when it comes to COVID-19, but months and months after recovering from the virus, some patients are dealing with smells appearing distorted and often extremely unpleasant. It’s called parosmia, and it’s changing every aspect of the lives of those who suffer, like pediatric nurse practitioner Jennifer Knight.
“It’s totally life-changing while its’s happening to you,” Knight said.
Knight tested positive back in July and recovered within a few weeks, but she never fully gained her sense of smell and taste back. In January, she says she was out with her husband eating Mexican, food and she noticed her margarita smelled like a “dirty old rag.” She says the smells took a nosedive after that, describing it to WKRG News 5 as, “If you’ve ever sat in front of a paper mill company, that sulphur strong smell, smoky a lot of times, and like dead flesh, like dead rotting flesh.”
These smells and tastes make her physically ill. She has had to change shampoo, toothpaste and detergent. She can’t take a shower or run the faucet without a nose plug. She also can’t go sit in a restaurant or be around or eat most foods.
“It’s pretty life-changing, I mean, you don’t realize how much everything is surrounded around food, even just coffee. My whole office has had to change their routine, everybody has to put a lid on their coffee, we can’t make coffee in the office right now,” Knight said.
COVID-19 damages olfactory nerves and this is the body’s way of neurons repairing themselves by only smelling the dominant parts of things. Emerging compounds that contain sulfur or nitrogen are key triggers, hence why running water or detergent makes Knight and other patients sick.
Parosmia works like this: Imagine your olfactory nerves are like a piano made up of receptors or keys. Imagine losing 70 percent of those keys and trying to play a song, it would sound awful… similar to COVID-19 patients, they are missing those “keys,” so everything smells awful too.
Knight has found comfort in support groups on Facebook of those living with it too, which is an increasing number. Through remedies shared on those pages, she has had some days with breakthroughs.
“My husband sent me flowers about a month ago, and I put them in my office not thinking about it and shut the door and when I walked in the next morning I smelled the flowers and I just got in my chair and started crying.”
Physicians and ENTs don’t know enough yet for it to be treatable, and there isn’t a lot of research. It’s a challenge every day both physically and mentally. “It’s made me an introvert. You don’t want to go anywhere, you don’t want to do anything. There is definitely anxiety and depression surrounding it because you’re like, ‘Oh my god if somebody pulls out a hamburger on me’ or something like that. And then the depression part is, ‘Is this going to be me the rest of my life?” Knight said.
Knight hopes there are better days ahead, but mostly she just wants people to take her and those suffering long after COVID-19 seriously.
“This is COVID. It’s not just about dying, and God bless those people that have lost their lives, but it’s not just about dying. It’s about having to live with the side effect of this stupid illness that no one knows anything about.”