LAS VEGAS (FOX5) -- Nearly half of people with COVID-19 infections report a distorted smell. Many people temporarily lose their sense of smell.
That’s what happened to 16-year-old Desiree Demos who had coronavirus last summer. She had no sense of smell until December, but then certain foods smelled putrid to her.
"It just tastes like it’s been in a cabinet for 30 years just old and expired," Desiree said after trying a peanut butter off a spoon. Some of her favorite foods are now impossible for her to eat. There are also smells that she can hardly cope with. Coffee is one example.
"I can't even walk into a Starbucks without gagging," the Summerlin teen said.
Desiree hadn’t heard of many others who had this lingering impact from COVID-19, but it turns out there are lots of people with these symptoms.
Another FOX5 follower said, “I’m on my second month of the hot rotten trash smell! Bacon tastes like lens, actual lemons taste like nothing. We call it The Putrid. It’s horrible.”
Multiple others wrote to us with similar symptoms, and said everything smells like garbage or onion.
The official term is parosmia. There is a support group on Facebook with nearly 17,000 members that post-COVID are suffering from parosmia or anosmia, which is a complete loss of smell.
Scientists have found coronavirus binds to the sensory nerve that's responsible for smell, and when those cells don't get enough nutrients they’re damaged.
"Some of them may die and as those nerves regrow they can regrow in an abnormal fashion, and that's why people are reporting these unusual smells or bad smells," dean of the UNLV School of Medicine Dr. Marc Kahn said.
There's no real cure to parosmia, but Kahn said smell therapy, which is essentially retraining the brain, has been used on those patients.
"In a very simple fashion what we do is allow patients with abnormalities in smell to smell peppermint, and we try to essentially teach the brain what peppermint smells like. It is being using with patients with parosmia. How well does it work? I think we just don't know yet."
Demos said she’d be willing to try any treatments or surgeries that could fix it. It’s made fun activities like going out to eat with friends more of a challenge.
"I try not to make things too difficult, but it’s definitely an uncomfortable situation for me to be in now because of the smell," she said.
Desiree’s mom has had to adapt her cooking too. Most proteins, fruits and spices are unbearable for Desiree to eat. She’s moved to a mostly vegan diet because of this.
The one silver lining is Desiree said she can now get her way out of eating some of those foods she never liked.
"Christmas Eve dinner my grandma makes a big seafood meal and I've never liked seafood … I was just like, because of COVID I can't eat it," she said with a laugh.