Living Vegan In Charlotte, NC

Vegan Long Haulers – Anosmia and Parosmia

For a long time, Cara Cara oranges (and other citrus and Sour Patch Kids (citrus flavors only! were the only foods that tasted "right" to me.
For a long time, Cara Cara oranges (and other citrus) and Sour Patch Kids – citrus flavors only! – were the only foods that tasted “right” to me.

As a Covid long hauler, I have noticed a distinct lack of information / media coverage for those of us in that “middle range.” You hear about people who never knew they had Covid, who had no symptoms, but were “silent carriers.”

And you hear about the people who were hospitalized. With pneumonia or on ventilators. You hear about the deaths.

But very little about those of us who were very sick with Covid – but not sick enough to be hospitalized. Which is probably most of us.

We’re also the ones who tend to be the long haulers.

One of the most common symptoms of long haulers is Anosmia – loss of sense of taste and smell. We will discuss that symptom first in this series.

Myth: People Lose Their Sense Of Smell And Taste Completely

Some people do lose their sense of smell and taste completely. But some lose it only partially – also distressing because nothing smells or tastes the way it “should.” And an extremely unlucky few experience Parosmia, where normally pleasant odors smell foul and rotten. One long hauler in a Facebook group described food as smelling like “garbage” or “rotting flesh.”

Myth: Your Sense Of Smell And Taste Returns Within A Month

That was what we were originally told. For some lucky peeps, it does. For others, it takes longer. Scientists have now revised the one month estimate to five months. But it is not unusual to have some lingering symptoms for up to a year.

Myth: Your Senses Return In A Linear Fashion; You Get A Little Better Every Day

I can personally attest that is NOT true. I had good days, I had bad days. I’m Irish. Before Covid I never met a potato I didn’t like – after Covid, French fries made me ill. Mint smelled like mold. And many foods had very little, if any, taste.

Months later, some things taste the way they should – some things don’t. Some days are better than others. And some days my senses are on FLEEK. As in, “Hmmm, this is supposed to be a tomato basil sauce, but I can tell there are two – no, make that three – sprigs of parsley.” Then the next day – I’m frantically searching my bathroom for mold before I realize I’m smelling my mint toothpaste.

Myth: Having No Sense Of Taste And Smell Or A Whacked Sense Of Taste And Smell Is Not A Big Deal

It really kinda IS. Yes, it’s better than being on a ventilator, but it seriously diminishes a lot of pleasure in life. People take a lot of pleasure and comfort in food, and to have food suddenly become completely pleasureless can be quite depressing.

The same with smells. There’s a reason men wear cologne and women buy candles and take scented bubble baths. There’s a reason we burn incense.

Imagine not being able to smell a newborn baby. Or puppy breath. Or the scent of a rose or honeysuckle. Or an old book.

For me – a food blogger and cooking enthusiast – it was especially depressing. I couldn’t ethically review foods when my taste buds were off, and I had to make allowances for when my palate was super fleek. (“This portobello mushroom sandwich would have been perfect with five less grains of pepper.”) And what fun is it to create a new recipe if you can only taste it in your imagination? I stopped cooking.

Additionally, losing your sense of taste and smell can be dangerous, as those senses alert us to spoiled food. Fortunately, as vegans, we do not eat meat, milk, or eggs, which puts us at less risk for accidental food poisoning.

Myth: Vitamins and Supplements Heal Your Anosmia

Well, maybe – IF you are deficient to begin with. The vitamins and minerals most associated with sense of taste and smell are Vitamins A, B6, and B12, as well as the mineral Zinc.

I recommend everyone – vegan or not – get a B12 test done at their yearly physical.

I don’t think it’s harmful to take a B supplement, which usually includes Zinc as well.

Vitamin A deficiency is incredibly rare in the United States, so there is really no reason to supplement. If you do choose to supplement with Vitamin A, be careful, as large doses can be TOXIC! Better to get your Vitamin A from a vegan multivitamin, or – best of all – real food, like carrots and sweet potatoes. Looking at the label on my Trader Joe’s Organic Carrot Juice, an 8 oz serving has 170% of the Daily Value. A medium sweet potato has 150% of the DV.

Myth: Smell Retraining Therapy

So this is actually a thing used by professionals. It involves sniffing a number of strong scents for several minutes at a time for three months.

What you see on the Internet is usually something entirely different. People are recommending their own programs – a popular one is sniffing ammonia. The NY State Department of Health says, “Exposure to high concentrations of ammonia causes immediate burning of the eyes, nose, throat and respiratory tract and can result in blindness, lung damage or death.” There’s a reason those cleaning solutions with ammonia advise you to use in well-ventilated rooms!

But even the professional treatment doesn’t seem very useful, as it takes three months and in the course of three months, you will have already made a lot of progress towards regaining your sense of smell and taste, anyway.

Myth: A Neti Pot Will Cure You

A Neti Pot is not a cure, but it might help if you also have underlying sinus or allergy issues. I’ve been using a Neti Pot for years – especially during pollen season – and it truly works wonders for sinus problems and allergies. So while it may not bring back your sense of smell, I’d recommend trying one anyway for the other benefits.

The Most Important Thing Is To Continue To Eat

A Planet Box “Grazing” Tray – apples, blueberries, trail mix, chocolate hummus, and a few vegan Dandies marshmallows.

I know, it’s hard. What I did was make a list of all the foods that were least odious to me: fresh fruit, canned fruit, applesauce, smoothies, oatmeal, raw salad veggies (carrots, celery, bell peppers, tomatoes), peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, a few kinds of soup … for awhile I had the palate of a six year old child! I made sure to keep these new “staples” on hand for the bad days.

It also helped to make a “grazing tray.” I’d use my Planet Box tray and create a fruit tray (pictured above – apples, blueberries, trail mix, chocolate hummus, and a few Dandies marshmallows). Or I’d create a veggie tray, with carrot and celery sticks, cherry tomatoes, perhaps a few olives, and regular hummus or Follow Your Heart ranch dressing for a dip. I’d keep these trays on my desk as I worked and force myself to eat a bite every now and then.

(In case you’re wondering what DIDN’T taste good to me: potatoes, mock meats, almost all cooked vegetables, mint, and many herbs and spices. Herbs and spices not tasting “right” also translated to many Indian, Mexican, and Asian foods tasting utterly disgusting. And y’all know I am a girl who likes her spice!)

Is There Hope?

There’s definitely hope! It can be a long, slow process, with ups and downs. Or, who knows, for you it might be quick! But it seems everyone DOES get better. I am *almost* back to normal! In fact, I recently had fries from Slutty Vegan – and they tasted good! Not great, not like they used to taste, but good. I ate them and didn’t barf. PROGRESS!

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2 Responses »

  1. What a challenging road! I’m so glad you’re getting back to normal, and appreciate you sharing your experience 💚

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