Has COVID-19 stolen your sense of smell? MUHC doctor suggests method to coax it back

Dr. Marc Tewfik explains how olfactory training can be done at home with regular kitchen items.

Dr. Marc Tewfik explains how olfactory training can be done at home with regular kitchen items

The majority of people who experience loss of smell after recovering from COVID-19 will get it back after two months. But for the 20 per cent who don't, olfactory training is an option. (Mauro Scrobogna/LaPresse via AP)

According to Dr. Marc Tewfik, an ear, nose and throat doctor at the McGill University Health Centre, most people who lose their sense of smell after testing positive for COVID-19 eventually get it back.

But for about 20 per cent of people who don't recover their sense of smell or taste within two months, olfactory training is a way to try to bring it back.

"We expect that about 80 per cent of patients who lose their sense of smell will have a pretty significant recovery by two months," Tewfik told CBC's Daybreak.

"If things just don't improve ... it's quite devastating because a lot of the pleasure in eating food or drinking wine, or what have you, is related to the sense of smell or taste, both of which are affected by COVID-19."

Tewfik said the loss affects patients' quality of life and can pose even larger problems.

"The sense of smell is actually — evolutionary speaking — a warning system for mammals and humans," he said. "If you have no sense of smell, then you may not be able to smell something burning in the kitchen or taste something that's gone bad."

While olfactory training is not a guaranteed solution for everyone, it does present a method that has worked for some in the past and can be done at home.

"In some patients, there is a good recovery in their sense of smell, albeit usually slow," said Tewfik.

How it works

Tewfik says olfactory training is easy to try at home. All it takes is five mason jars filled with strong smelling natural ingredients like coffee beans, cinnamon sticks, lemon juice or cloves.

"You take five odorants from around the kitchen and you put them in mason jars and you smell them twice a day for several months."

He suggests repeating this for at least three months.

"You smell them for a little bit every day, twice a day, and that would usually stimulate the nerve cells in the nose to regenerate," said Tewfik.

He warns against using anything chemical like Windex, and advises people stick to natural products.

Tewfik says right now there isn't much data looking at olfactory training and COVID-19 patients, so he plans to start a project in collaboration with other Quebec researchers to track a group of patients who lost their sense of smell.

With files from CBC's Daybreak

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