CHENNAI: Imagine if lemons smell like petrol, or dosas like rotten cabbage! Twenty-five-year-old Sanjana (name changed), a doctor pursuing post-graduation in general surgery, is living this nightmare. Even her favourite food items now smell like raw sewage. She was treated for Covid in August-September.
Like many others, she too suffered Anosmia – the loss of smell and taste. However, instead of recovering from it, she started experiencing a new one – Parosmia. This is a disorder that distorts smells, often making them unpleasant.The various flavours she enjoyed smelled strange: mostly putrid or foul and made her nauseous.
Experts say smell dysfunctions are common after-effects of viral illnesses. However, in Sanjana’s case, the conditions persists a good three months after recovery, making her wonder if she will ever go back to enjoying her food again.
"I lost my sense of smell and taste by the end of August and I was on Covid-19 treatment," she said. While most people who develop Anosmia due to Covid-19 experience symptoms for about two weeks, Sanjana's persisted for over six weeks.
"For a few days in mid-October, I started regaining my smell, then suddenly just being around food made me want to vomit," she said, elaborating that then she realised that the problem was not with food but her sense of smell. After a lot of trial-and-error, she has standardised a meal of plain rice, fresh yogurt and select boiled vegetables.
"I have classified all food as only two kinds: One that does not make me vomit or food that smells putrid like sewage or toxic chemicals," she declared saying that she found that fruits like blueberries or pomegranate are not as intolerable as the citric ones.
The big problem that Sanjana is now facing is that she is unable to find an effective treatment for her condition. After consulting several physicians and finding very limited effective treatment, Sanjana found some solace within social media support groups, wherein people who developed Parosmia post-Covid, discuss symptoms and suggest food that doesn’t make them nauseous. The group hosts members who are as young as 10 years old and also those over 60. There are many patients who are unable to consume anything other than water, and for some even tap water smells like petrol. Unfortunately, most members in these groups have not reported recovering from Parosmia, causing worry if the impairment could be permanent.
Normally, people with Parosmia take a few years to regain their sense of smell, says Kilpauk Medical College Dean P Vasanthamani. “No Covid-19 patient in KMC has reported this symptom so far. Anosmia is one of the first symptoms many experience before they get tested for Covid-19. Parosmia could be a very rare offshoot of the viral infection,” she says.
Retired Director of Public Health Dr K Kolandasamy opines that linking Covid-19 and Parosmia needs more investigation. “There are no reported cases in Tamil Nadu so far and it seems like a rare case. It is too early to establish a correlation and it needs further investigation,” he added. Certain smell training programmes have helped some Parosmia patients train their senses to get used to the foul smell and to avoid throwing up. However, the programmes seem to have limited effect on recovery.