From delicious to disgusting: Why COVID-19 can change your taste and smell

Published: Apr. 1, 2021 at 9:38 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - It may sound just like a nightmare, you reach for your favorite bite to eat and smell rotten food instead.

For many, it is not a nightmare at all. It is a reality. Losses or changes in tastes and smells are actually very real symptoms of the coronavirus.

“Most of my favorite foods I can’t eat anymore,” said Ashlyn Koster, who had the virus back in early January.

Koster thought she was the only one who had this bizarre side effect - tastes and smells going from delicious to disgusting.

”I could not eat anything it was disgusting,” she said. “And I think it started getting worse by the day also.”

Her taste came back a little after she contracted COVID-19, but suddenly it switched months after she had the virus.

”It wasn’t as strong as it used to be but it was normal,” she said. “But then maybe towards the end of February everything started tasting gross.”

She had food one week and then suddenly that exact food tasted terrible the next.

But she is not alone. In fact it is a pretty common symptom caused by damage to receptors responsible for all your different flavors and tastes.

“It’s when some of those nerves are affected and some aren’t and you can actually get an overpowering of the healthy receptors over the ones that are sick or not working,” said Dr. Scott Duff, a Neurologist with Mercy Hospital. “And so you identify a taste as something that it’s not because those sensors are meant for other tastes. And it tells the brain a different story.”

For most people it goes away fairly quickly. But for some, like Koster, it may linger a little while.

”Interestingly the young people, 20 to 30 can take up to 16 weeks to get better actually,” Duff said. “While over 75 to 80-percent of people recover their sense of smell and taste, it can take several months.”

For now, things like meat are especially unappetizing for Koster. It has even caused a lack of hunger.

”I will be searching around the house for something I can eat for breakfast and it’s like I literally can’t anything in the house,” she said. “And so I just go without breakfast because I’d rather not eat than taste whatever it is.”

Damaged nerves also cause the same for smell.

”My mom was making chicken and I could not be in the front area of the house,” Ashlyn said. “I had to put toilet paper in my nostrils because it was just making me gag.”

While patience may be the best solution, Duff said you can try one thing - retraining your senses with essential oils.

”If you get clove oil, lemon oil, eucalyptus oil and rose oil, essential oils and the fragrances, and just take very shallow sniffs of those twice a day for about a month, you can retrain parts of your brain to wake up and start working again,” he said.

In the meantime, Ashlyn said she is just looking forward to that mouthwatering bite that is hopefully not too far away.

”I’m probably gonna eat me a big cheeseburger or some chicken tenders or something like that I don’t know,” she laughed.

Duff also said if you lose your smell, you may want to double check your smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors. He said safety often gets overlooked when this happens.

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