Intermountain Healthcare

Intermountain Healthcare smell training for COVID-19 patients

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(INTERMOUNTAIN HEALTHCARE) – As the COVID-19 virus continues to spread, there are increasing numbers of people who report prolonged loss of smell after contracting the virus.

One study found that as many as 77 percent of those who had COVID-19 were estimated to have some loss of smell.

“Other viral illnesses have been known to cause a loss of smell, but it was uncommon before the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Dr. Alexander Ramirez, medical director for the otolaryngology clinical program for Intermountain Healthcare, “The SARS-CV-2 virus binds the ACE receptors which we see in abundance in the olfactory area of the nasal cavity, so it is not surprising that we are seeing it more frequently with COVID-19.”

In most patients the loss of smell is temporary, but for others it can be prolonged, taking months or even years to fully recover. In fact, Dr. Ramirez says it is a common problem he sees in Long COVID patients.

“That lack of smell also causes dysgeusia, which is a disruption with their ability to taste which is largely regulated by smell,” said Dr. Ramirez. “As a result, patients will often lose their desire to eat, drop significant amounts of weight, and lose the joy of smells in life. In addition, there is the risk of fires and not smelly things that might be burning.”

Courtney Wightman, 34, is one of those Long COVID patients who lost her sense of taste and smell after getting the virus in January 2021.

“It’s been a long stressful year,” said Wightman. “My life is completely different. I used to enjoy the smells at the spa and the food I eat.”

Dr. Ramirez and other physicians are recommending a treatment called Olfactory training, also called smell training, to help their patients recover that sense of smell. It has been shown to be beneficial for patients with anosmia, or loss of smell caused by other viruses, so it has been applied to COVID patients.

Wightman has turned to smell training to gain some of her senses back, and tells others, “You have to be patient and consistent.”

For additional information, visit the Intermountain Healthcare website.

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