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Recovering Your Sense of Smell After Covid-19

publication date: Apr 24, 2021
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author/source: Anne Coates

Fifth Sense One of the symptoms of Covid-19 is losing your sense of smell and for many suffering from long Covid this can continue for some time. Recent research by an international group of smell experts, shows that treatment with steroids should not be used to treat this. Smell loss expert Prof Carl Philpott from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, recommends "smell training".

The new study published today shows that corticosteroids – a class of drug that lowers inflammation in the body – are not recommended to treat smell loss due to Covid-19. Doctors often prescribe them to help treat conditions such as asthma, and they have been considered as a therapeutic option for smell loss caused by Covid-19. However they have well-known potential side effects including fluid retention, high blood pressure, and problems with mood swings and behaviour.

Instead, the team recommend "smell training" – a process that involves sniffing at least four different odours twice a day for several months. Smell loss expert Prof Carl Philpott from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, said: “The huge rise in smell loss caused by Covid-19 has created an unprecedented worldwide demand for treatment. “What we found that there is very little evidence that corticosteroids will help with smell loss. And because they have well known potential adverse side effects, our advice is that they should not be prescribed as a treatment for post-viral smell loss. 

“Around one in five people who experience smell loss as a result of Covid-19 report that their sense of smell has not returned to normal eight weeks after falling ill. Research shows that 90 per cent of people will have fully recovered their sense of smell after six months.

“But we do know that smell training could be helpful. This involves sniffing at least four different odours twice a day every day for several months. It has emerged as a cheap, simple and side-effect free treatment option for various causes of smell loss, including Covid-19.

“It aims to help recovery based on neuroplasticity – the brain’s ability to reorganise itself to compensate for a change or injury,” Professor Philpott added.

There is a wealth of information about smell training and a comprehensive and useful toolbox on the FifthSense website.