So This Is What It's Like to Lose Your Smell and Taste to Covid-19

Petrichor. 

Photo by Luca Bravo on Unsplash

That's the smell of the air when it's just been raining - that fresh, energising scent that comes just after a storm. And it's gone. 

The citrussy waft of roasted beans as you walk past a coffee van. The sweetness of freshly cut grass. The berry-like tang of a dark glass of merlot. It's all gone, because I got Covid. 

If you've ever wondered what it might be like to lose your taste and smell to this virus, I'll tell you. 

The first couple of days of the infection weren't too bad. It was a general weirdness to start with, like something just wasn't quite right. Then the next day I woke up with a throat that felt as if it had done a couple of rounds with a cheese grater. It came with a tickly, barely-there but pretty constant cough and so I ordered a test online. 

The next morning the test came - amazing, as I'd ordered it the previous evening - so I completed it, donned a mask and posted it through my closest NHS-approved letterbox, while doing the statutory dodging and crossing the road whenever I saw another human being. We're all used to that by now, aren't we. 

The classic aches and pains followed - in the legs, arms - and a bruised, aching behind my eyeballs as if I'd read the whole works of Shakespeare in just two hours. The cough worsened and became more violent and I felt tired. Not exhausted, but I needed daytime naps. I was on the phone to the emergency doctor at 4.30am on a Saturday because I woke up and couldn't catch my breath. 

And then I ate some Stilton on a cracker. 

The first bite was epic. Salty, tangy and crunchy. I went in for a second bite, and... nothing. I tasted again. My sense of taste and smell literally evaporated in that few seconds between those cheese-loaded crackers. I started grabbing smelly things in the house at random, taking in big sniffs through the nostrils. Lemon, eucalyptus, coffee, more Stilton. Nothing. 

OK, my nostrils silently tingle a little somewhere deep inside at a fresh chilli or eucalyptus oil but there's no scent.  

It's been almost four weeks so far since I smelled or tasted anything at all and I can tell you it's pretty rough. I know people that have been without it for longer - some around eight months. It's not the same as losing your smell or taste from having a cold - there is this definite feeling that something behind my nose and mouth has simply disconnected, like there's just an emptiness there, rather than anything's bunged up. Yeah, it's weird. Like someone's crept up when you weren't looking and cut your smelling and tasting wires. 

I've read online that the virus damages the cells that control your taste and smell and you have to just wait for your body to join up all the connections again, which can take a bit of time. In some people, the senses might not ever return, so they say, which is a bit frightening. But most people seem to get it back, in varying degrees, eventually. 

One thing is for sure: before Covid, I took my sense of smell and taste for granted. As well as food tasting like water (although you can detect salty, sweet and bitter that's it. A pile of noodle stir-fry with chicken and colourful vegetables tastes just like endless salty water) my cooking is terrible, because you lose that spontaneous 'adding a pinch of salt' or a handful of herbs here or there depending on how it smells or tastes. I've burned countless dinners because I've slid it into the oven and totally forgotten that it's there. I have to get my kids to sniff the milk for my porridge each morning in case it's gone off, or the eggs as I crack them into a bowl for my omelette. 

When I spoke to the doctor in the days that followed, I told her I'd lost my taste and smell and she quickly asked if I had anyone else at home with me. I thought it was so she could make sure there was someone to bring me comforting hot cups of tea, but it turns out it was more likely in case of something like a gas leak or an absent-minded snack of gone-off chicken in the fridge. Our smell and taste do incredible stuff for us. 

I reckon it'll come back one day. Luckily for me the other symptoms have gone - I no longer need the daytime naps and I'm up and about and dressed nowadays, so that's a plus. I'm heartbroken every time I hear the statistics on the news, the people that didn't make it. Here, locked down at home, I think of them a lot. And in real terms, coming out of a virus that's claimed so many around the world without your taste and smell and the odd dry, tickly cough is quite minor really. I'm grateful for that and my thoughts are with everyone over the world who has been affected by the virus.

In the meantime, I'll be sniffing the coffee jar or lemons from the fridge pretty much every half an hour, just in case it comes back as quickly as it left. 

Taste and Smell, I took you for granted. But now I appreciate you. Any time you're ready, come on home. 




Comments

  1. Hi! Sorry to hear you've lost your sense of smell, but glad you're on the mend.

    I lost my sense of smell with a viral infection back in 2008, and it was as you describe. My sense of smell came back eventually, but not all at once. Took me 6 months to start getting fleeting faint wafts of things, and I still remember a time in the middle when I stood near an open drain cover that my other half couldn't bear to be near, but I inhaled deeply the wonderful smell of summer morning. It took about 2 years to come back, and it is now a bit fainter than before. The last scent to return was lavender, and that is my most cherished plant in the garden now! Hope my experience is useful to you.

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    1. Ah that is useful! I sniffed a lemon yesterday as I was making dinner and could smell the very faintest scent of it, as if it was really far away. Got excited, smelled again, and NOTHING. lol! Thanks for sharing your experience, so glad you can smell the lavender again!

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