'I find no joy in eating': Why recovery can stink for some infected with Covid

05 September 2021 - 00:00
Vivian Govender says smell and taste loss is one of the main post-Covid complaints.
Vivian Govender says smell and taste loss is one of the main post-Covid complaints.
Image: File photo

Nicolaas Venter was relieved when his sense of smell returned three days after he got Covid a year ago, but he wasn't prepared for everything to smell burnt or like vinegar.

Recovery from the disease can literally stink for people like Venter who lose their sense of smell and taste and suffer from parosmia, a condition that makes normal scents smell foul to the human nose.

Others have no sense of taste and smell for months.

"It has drastically impacted my daily life, as I found comfort in making food, enjoying it and experimenting with new and different flavours," said Venter, of Pretoria.

"I find no joy in eating or making food anymore as it has become something I dread. I cannot appreciate pleasant smells anymore, which not only has an adverse effect on your mental health but also core functions, as you are unable to, for instance, smell if you might have body odour or whether food or milk has gone bad."

Annie Klintworth of Cape Town, who got Covid in December, always thinks the food she is cooking is going off.

She now has to ask her children to be her "sense of smell".


The percentage of people recovering from Covid who have a loss of taste and smell

"People talk about the smell of coffee or fresh bread, and I feel I am missing out. However, I used to never be able to stand near smokers - now I don't mind at all," she said.

Pretoria ear, nose and throat (ENT) surgeon Vivian Govender said loss of smell or taste was one of the most common post-Covid complaints of recovering patients.

"Studies have shown that 60% have loss of smell. Out of that 60%, 90% recover within four weeks; 90% of that other 10% recover after six months; and the remaining never get their smell back. It's permanent."

Durban ENT surgeon Sujith Basanth said the olfactory nerves responsible for smell are found high up in the nose at the skull base.


How long it can take for these senses to return

"Surrounding these olfactory nerves are many 'supporting structures' which are responsible for maintaining the integrity and functioning of the olfactory nerves.

"Research has shown that Covid attacks these supporting structures to the olfactory cells and in so doing blocks the transmission of smell to the olfactory nerves. As a result of this, the sense of smell is temporarily lost," he said.

"As soon as the virus has run its course and is eliminated from the body, these supporting structures recover and go back to doing their job in the transmission of smell and, with it, taste.

"In the majority of patients , this takes two to three weeks. In some patients , this takes a bit longer."


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