NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) - “I didn’t have my taste, I didn’t have my smell, I was extremely tired,” said Chandler Maynard as she thought back to when she had COVID-19 around Halloween last year.
“I had about every single symptom that they tell you,” she said.
But like many who have had the virus, she slowly returned to normal, going from exhaustion to a normal level of energy.
“And I haven’t had any problems since, until recently.”
Now two and a half months later, the virus is literally leaving a bad taste in her mouth.
“The best way I can describe it is like rotting garbage or like rotting meat. And that scent/taste is like in the back of my throat at all times," she said.
Like anyone in her position, she wants to know why this is suddenly happening, months after she thought she was recovered.
The Medical Director for Vanderbilt’s Smell and Taste Clinic Dr. Justin Turner explains that COVID-19 brought this long known problem to the public sphere.
“We’ve known for decades that there’s a certain percentage of individuals who after a viral upper respiratory infection, will lose their sense of smell and or taste,” said Dr. Turner.
He said while it can take weeks or months to regain the senses, it means the brain is learning how to smell again.
“We generally consider that a good sign or a positive indicator because it suggests that that recovery is recurring,” he said.
Dr. Turner also said it can take weeks or months to fully regain those senses but 80 percent of those who lose their sense of smell will recover in about 6 weeks.
“During that period of time is when we start to see some of these odd scents, where things smell like somethings burning or you know something where you, over many years, learned what it’s supposed to smell like and suddenly it smells like something different.”
It can be a safety issue too should you not be able to smell smoke, or gas, or spoiled food.
“These people that experience these dysosmias, parosmias, where things are smelling very strange, those can be particularly disconcerting because you notice it much more during your day to day activities than for example if you just don’t smell as well as you used to," Dr. Turner added.
So what’s happening to cause all of this?
“These people will actually have a loss of the neurons that sense odorants. This is a small number of cells that live at the top of the nasal cavity. They send a signal to the brain through a very thin part of the base of the skull and when you lose those cells, that’s what is transducing that signal and sending it to your brain," Dr. Turner explained. "So during that recovery phase you’re actually getting regeneration of those cells but they don’t have any communication yet with the brain so it takes a while for that connection to be made again.”
But this can also cause anxiety for people too.
Dr. Jim Jackson is a Professor of Medicine at the Vanderbilt ICU Recovery Center. He said they typically treat loss of taste or smell like a speed bump.
“There’s no doubt that I’ve seen people, others have seen people that are distressed by loss of taste, loss of smell, but that stress is less pronounced than certain other things,” said Dr. Jackson.
He said those other things are brain fog and anxiety or PTSD from having the virus.
“I can have diminished taste or smell, or I can have metallic taste as we’ve had patients in our clinic reference, and I can still go to work, right? I can still do my normal activities, albeit with this new annoyance. But if I have brain fog, if you use that as an example or I have pulmonary problems that mean that I’m on oxygen once I’m at home," Dr. Jackson added. "Those things are disabling in a different way because they provoke anxiety about can I go back to work?”
Maynard’s message while she waits for her taste and smell to hopefully go back to normal, people should continue to take the virus seriously.
“It’s not a joke.”