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Parosmia: COVID Side Effect Can Make Food Smell Rancid, Last Up To 2 Years

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- One of the long-term side effects of COVID-19 can be hard to swallow for some people. The condition is called parosmia, and it's where the smells and tastes of foods are distorted. In some cases, people experiencing parosmia can't even be in the same room as the foods that they once loved.

Nikki Seppelt, 30, of St. Louis Park, is one of people suffering from this side effect. She first contracted COVID-19 in July of 2020 and lost her sense of taste and smell for a few weeks, a common symptom of the virus. But when those senses came back, things tasted and smelled wrong. Garlic, onions, leafy greens, and red meat smelled rotten to her, making her sick if she'd eat them.

Dr. Holly Boyer, of M Health Fairview, says about 80% of COVID-19 patients experience some form of parosmia, where the smell receptors in the nose are damaged, causing foods to taste and smell rancid, metallic or smoky. Generally, the condition lasts two to six months. In rare cases it can take up to two years to recover.

For Seppelt, she's been living with the condition for about eight months.

"You don't realize how valuable your senses are until they are gone," she said, adding: "If I was told this was a lifetime sentence, I would prefer to just not be able to taste and smell ever -- for the rest of my life -- than have to deal with this."

To help patients suffering from parosmia, Boyer says doctors can recommend smell therapy, which helps retrain the senses. It works by having patients repeatedly smell oils or household items that are heavily-scented with easily identifiable smells, such as strawberry or lavender. Over-the-counter steroid sprays can also help.

Seppelt says she's using social media to get help from others suffering from long-term parosmia. One group, she says, has over 20,000 people in it, offering support and advice in how to deal with the condition.

"Being able to join a couple different Facebook groups for parosmia support has been truly life-changing," she said. Some of the groups Seppelt found support in include COVID Anosmia/Parosmia Support Group, Parosmia – Post COVID Support Group, and Pregnant with Parosmia.

Parosmia is not only linked to COVID-19. It can also be caused by head injury, sinus infection, or seizures, among other ailments.

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