Can Smell Training Help People Regain Smell After COVID-19?

Can Smell Training Help People Regain Smell After COVID-19?

Stopping to smell the roses may be difficult if you lost your sense of smell as a result of developing COVID-19. Among the many symptoms, temporary loss of taste and smell were the most annoying, as they can negatively affect mood. To combat a prolonged loss of smell after recovering from COVID-19, many people seek out ways to cope with or safely regain this sense.

How Did Loss Of Smell Happen From COVID-19?

An olfactory loss can result from nasal allergies, sinusitis, and viral respiratory illnesses like COVID-19. When the virus enters the body, it binds to an ACE2 receptor, which is a specific protein. ACE2 receptors also exist on supporting cells within the olfactory system in the upper nose. Damaging these receptors can cause a loss of smell. Additionally, inflammation surrounding nasal tissues can impair nerve function and a person’s ability to smell. 

Because smell is an integral component of life, it’s important not to neglect the loss of this sense. Without a proper sense of smell, it’s difficult to detect about 80-90% of the flavor in food. Losing the sense of smell extends beyond an ability to enjoy food and drink, though. According to July-August 2021 research, about 43% of adults who lost their sense of smell from COVID-19 reported depression. About 70-75% of people will be able to recover their sense of smell out of the blue, but the remaining 25% may not be so lucky.

What Is Smell Training?

Olfactory retraining, or smell training, is a decade-old concept that has regained interest as a possible treatment for smell loss from COVID-19. The first helpful evidence about smell therapy emerged in a 2009 preliminary study. 40 patients experiencing a loss of smell exposed themselves to four scents two times a day for 12 weeks. The scents included rose, lemon, eucalyptus and cloves. At the conclusion of the study, the participants who used smell training had better odor identification than those who did not get the therapy.

Smell training is not merely the simple act of smelling specific fragrances. One of the key factors of smell training is to focus on what the scent represents while smelling it. Not only do you retrain your nose, but you also retrain your brain to recognize smells. If you smell roses, for example, visualize what they smell like and where you would find them in the world. Essentially, visual imagery that stimulates the scent may help improve smell over time. 

How Does Smell Training Work?

According to doctors, the exact biological mechanism by which smell training helps people is not entirely clear. There are, however, some possible theories. As stated earlier in this article, viral illnesses like COVID-19 can damage olfactory receptors in the sinuses. Additionally, these illnesses may damage the cells in the olfactory bulb, a collection of nerve cells on the underside of the brain. In order to regain sense of smell, you have to form new neurons and neuronal connections in the olfactory processing system. 

Smell training aims to stimulate the sense of smell and assist with recovery. Using physical and psychological elements helps reteach the olfactory system. People can ultimately use memory and experience to train nerves to come back to life, and then they can smell again.

Does It Work For People Who Had COVID-19?

Although smell training and loss of smell as a result of COVID-19 is a new area of study, it may be worth a shot. A 2020 review study looked at 36 past studies about smell training for virus-related loss of smell, but not COVID-19 specifically. The authors found that smell training could be useful at regaining smell. Additionally, a small preliminary study published in January 2021 looked at 27 people who had persistent smell loss for about five weeks post COVID-19 diagnosis. 

Out of those 27 people, nine were given 10 days of oral corticosteroids and olfactory training. The remaining 18 participants only received olfactory training. Some people from the olfactory-training-only group experienced improvements in sense of smell 10 weeks later. Those who receive smell training alongside the corticosteroids saw a significant improvement in smell. More research is still necessary, as this is a relatively new area of study. Only time will tell how smell therapy benefits COVID-19 patients with prolonged loss of smell.



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