For Sales and Marketing Director Sarah Prentice, being hit with coronavirus back in January signalled the start of a long road back to regaining her sense of taste and smell. What caused it and what could be done to improve it? Sarah shares her lockdown research!
Covid has affected us all in one way or another over the last 18 months, but for a food lover like me, losing my taste and smell in January after getting the virus was a shock, especially when food was my main lockdown pleasure!
Although I work in the hospitality industry, I am not in the kitchen and it did make me think how hard it must be for chefs to lose their taste and sense of smell as they really are their tools of their trade. How have they coped I wonder?
It turns out that losing your sense of taste is a bit more complicated than I first thought; there’s anosmia which is the inability to smell, parosmia which is when our sense of smell is distorted and phantosmia (great name) is when we smell things that aren’t there. Then there’s loss of taste (ageusia) or an altered perception of taste (dysgeusia). Who knew all of these even existed?
I was surprised to see so much information about loss of smell being important to taste. According to one Oxford University study, 75–95% of what we think we taste we actually smell, so It’s really hard to talk to about one without the other. Given that smell is the precursor to taste, most sufferers often struggle to distinguish between the two.
We sense odours through a cluster of nerve cells called “olfactory sensory neurons”, which are located high up at the back of the nose and early in the pandemic, scientists were worried that coronavirus might be triggering smell loss by infecting these olfactory neurons and then making their way into the brain, where it could cause lasting damage. Thankfully further research revealed that these neurons lack the ACE2 receptors the virus uses to infect cells, but these receptors are found on support cells in the nasal lining which interact with these neurons, hence the loss of smell and taste for many of us. (Science lesson over and yes, I did Google this!)
Luckily, it seems help is at hand and there are now books and courses available to help with these losses. Various studies have suggested that repeated short-term exposure to smells can help them to recover!
Smell loss charities recommend picking four scents that you enjoy or have a connection with, and actively sniffing them twice a day, spending around 20 seconds on each scent. Ideally, you should try and pick scents which represent the four categories of flowery, fruity, spicy and resinous – and you could either use essential oils or the actual substance they derive from.
For instance, if you chose lemon as one of your scents, you could use some grated lemon peel. While sniffing the lemon, focus your thoughts on lemon and try to recall what your experience of lemon was. You might feel a bit daft, but we need to reconnect with aroma and taste!
For those suffering from loss of taste and smell there’s no quick fix; (ideal time to eat those really healthy food you might not be keen on?!) but we can begin to re-train our brain to perceive our favourite flavours and odours again and over time, I’m pleased to say that mine is slowly getting back to normal. I have even been able to enjoy smelling and drinking my wines and cheeses again …weekends only of course!