News & Views
What Exactly Is Parosmia?
Feb 25 2021 Read 1041 Times
The loss of smell and taste is a common symptom of coronavirus, affecting up to two-thirds of all those who have been diagnosed with the disease. But while most of the research conducted into COVID-19 has focused on ways of tackling the spread of the virus or vaccinating the population against it, very little is understood about how it can potentially cause lasting damage to the olfactory system.
Parosmia is one such condition. Sufferers of parosmia have found that after being diagnosed with the disease, their sense of smell has not returned as it was before. Instead, many people are finding that things which should smell nice – such as food, soap or other people – are now giving off a repulsive aroma, causing significant difficulties in their daily lives.
An unquantified epidemic
When anecdotal evidence of parosmia first began to surface during the first wave of diagnoses of coronaviruses, the British medical community was at a loss as to explain what was happening. Frustrated, sufferers turned to the internet to seek support. A social media group founded by smell loss charity AbScent currently has over 13,000 members, indicating the extent to which the condition has afflicted people.
Of the 65% of those diagnosed with COVID-19 who experience a loss of smell and taste, it’s estimated that a further 10% will develop long-term olfactory dysfunction, including parosmia. Extrapolating those numbers across the entire global population reveals that there could potentially be millions of sufferers of parosmia all around the globe.
Although food analysis techniques have advanced significantly in recent years, parosmia was a relatively unknown condition prior to the pandemic and very little scientific research has been conducted into it. Therefore, the current prevailing theory is that the malady arises when the nerve fibres which carry sensory information to the brain become damaged, either through the contraction of a virus or through head trauma.
This manifests itself in the form of pleasant-smelling foods and items suddenly taking on horrible odours. Users of the aforementioned Facebook group have described the stenches they encounter as “vomity”, “fruity sewage”, “rancid wet dog” and “hot soggy garbage”. Ultimately this makes mealtimes a very difficult endeavour, while even day-to-day activities are turned into challenging ordeals.
What can be done?
Those suffering from parosmia are advised to avoid fried foods. Indeed, hot or warm food should be given a wide berth altogether, with cold or room-temperature meals apparently easier to stomach. Fragrant foods like garlic, onion, eggs, meat, coffee and chocolate are believed to the worst offenders, while bland choices like yoghurt, bread, rice, noodles and steamed vegetables are a safer bet.
In the long run, it is hoped that the brain will be capable of recovering on its own, reconnecting the nerve fibres to the correct terminals and righting the wrongs which lead to parosmia. However, with very little known about the disease at the present time, the medical community does not have a strong conviction that the condition can be overcome.
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