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Treatment available for loss of taste and smell from COVID-19

Updated: Apr. 7, 2021 at 4:58 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Doctors at ENT and Allergy Partners in the Lowcountry say they are seeing more people seeking treatment after losing their smell and taste from COVID-19. The practice is formally known as Charleston ENT and Allergy.

They say it’s important for people to seek treatment early for best results. Virginia resident Rich Roberts still has symptoms of COVID-19 after being hospitalized because of the virus in November.

“It’s early April and I still do not have much of smell sensory. My smell and my taste is about 10 percent,” Roberts said.

He’s visiting Charleston and says he’s being treated with a steroid nasal spray from his doctor in Virginia.

“Frankly, I’ve been under that treatment for about a month and it really hasn’t progressed very well,” Roberts said.

Board certified Otolaryngologist for ENT and Allergy Partners Dr. Jessica Lee says about 5 to 10 percent of people with this COVID-19 symptom experience it long-term. She says for most people, their smell and taste will return in two to three weeks.

“Interestingly, we have seen loss of smell and therefore usually loss of taste with other types of viral infections,” Lee said. “We definitely have seen more of an uptick in patients coming in with these complaints after a COVID-19 infection. I think that there’s a lot more awareness now.”

She advises people to wait a few weeks to see if it will return, but if it doesn’t you should seek medical care.

“A lot of it can be due just simply due to inflammation in the sinuses and then the nasal passages,” Lee said.

She says studies are preliminary, but there is good evidence for treatment with oral or nasal steroids. Dr. Lee says an irrigationnasal steroid is the better option than a spray.

“Just because you’re going to get better distribution up near the top of the sinuses, which is really where the smell nerves are located,” Lee said.

She says there is also smell retraining. It’s long-term and can take several months.

“It’s kind of like to call physical therapy for your nose, so if you’ve lost your sense of smell or if there’s a disturbance in your smell you can go through a training protocol where essentially you use four main categories of smells and you sort of practice sniffing them every day,” Lee said. “You use your other senses you recruit the neurons that involve what that may look like what that may feel like.”

She says it can help heal some of the connections that someone lost.

Lee says most of their patients see improvements in five to six months following treatment.

Roper St. Francis Physician Partners Dr. Marie Elizabeth Neilsen works in primary care at the Wescott location in Summerville. She says some of her patients have lingering COVID-19 symptoms.

“They’re probably about one-third to two-third of people who have COVID-19 infection do experience some loss of taste and smell,” Neilsen said. “Depending on the type of COVID variant that they’re infected with and certain other factors, most people do tend to get better.”

Neilsen says in some cases she’ll refer patients to an ENT physician.

“It’s it’s going to have to be a team effort to try to understand the best way to manage these symptoms and to give people the most current advice about how to how to deal with them,” Neilsen said. “So I think we have to take a team approach because it’s amazing how the whole body can be affected by the virus and in many people.”

Roberts is still being treated in Virginia.

“I’m a big foodie, I’m an Italian guy so it’s a big deal, but I’m also mentally and spiritually prepared for it not to return,” he said. “I count my blessings.”

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