Health

6 Ways to Cope With Having No Sense of Smell (From Coronavirus or Anything Else)

AbScent manages three moderated Facebook groups: one for people who became anosmic due to COVID-19 (with more than 23,000 members), a group for those experiencing parosmia (with more than 8,000 members), and its original group, now designated for people who have non-COVID anosmia (with more than 6,000 members). Because AbScent’s groups have a global membership, there is the added benefit that you can likely connect with someone at any hour. 

Though virtual groups are great for support, online chatter isn’t always scientifically accurate, so finding reliable sources of information on the internet is crucial, notes Boateng. Established organizations are the best place to start, including the National Institutes of Health, AbScent, the Global Consortium for Chemosensory Research, and the charity FifthSense.

3. Seek out professional mental health support if you can.

Losing your sense of smell can significantly impact your well-being. Anosmia can affect so many aspects of your life, including your work and your relationships. Don’t hesitate to seek mental health support if you’re able to and are having an understandably hard time.

“People have difficulty getting to grips with it because the condition is largely suffered in silence. It’s very difficult to describe and talk about, and others tend to dismiss it,” says Kelly. “But neurologically, other things are going on. Two mechanisms are at work: the bereavement of losing the sense of smell, and the neurological changes.”

Research shows a correlation between olfactory functioning and depression, and it doesn’t seem to be purely related to changes in your quality of life due to a subpar sense of smell. One possible theory is that reduced input from the olfactory bulb affects the brain’s limbic system, which is responsible for emotions.

“The need for depression support after smell loss is becoming very apparent and very necessary,” Kelly says. “People need to recognize what’s going on, and people need to recognize this is not just a problem of the nose.”

If you’re not sure where to find professional support, you can start with this guide to searching for an accessible, affordable therapist. People you connect with through support groups may also have recommendations for therapists who are especially great in this realm.

4. Know that your relationship with food might change.

After learning I can’t smell, several people have said to me, “If I couldn’t smell, I’d be so thin because I would only eat salads.” Besides being tactless, this comment is incorrect. I still experience taste on my tongue—sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and umami—and would prefer a sundae to a salad. What’s missing for me is the flavor associated with smell, so a hard candy is sweet, but I have no idea if it is cherry or strawberry.

Mary Beth Ostrowski is a registered dietitian who lost her sense of smell four years ago from a head injury. She quickly noticed herself reaching for especially salty and sweet foods more often than she had before. “You can feel that tingling on your tongue when you’re eating something salty. It’s like, ‘Oh, I’m finally experiencing something,’” Ostrowski, who works at Riverview Medical Center in Red Bank, N.J., tells SELF.

It’s true that your ability to smell and taste the nuances of what’s on your plate will change. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy your food, potentially in new ways. Chef Joshna Maharaj, author of “Take Back the Tray,” suggests experimenting with bold flavors such as chilies and citrus, if you don’t already. Ostrowski found that spices such as garlic, onion, and cayenne pepper also provide a similar sensation to salt. 

Another tip is to activate other senses while eating. Hear and feel the crunch of crisp foods such as scallions and crispy fried onions; see an array of colors on your plate. Ostrowski’s salad, for instance, will have red tomatoes and radishes, green snow peas and avocado slices, sesame seeds, and a protein.

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