Smell Therapy: Smell training can help one regain the olfactory senses

Losing sense of smell affects taste sensation, negatively impacts quality of life and can also lead to feelings of loss, loneliness and anxiety.

Anosmia, or smell blindness, is a peculiar clue to coronavirus infection. So if you find yourself unable to smell your favourite fragrances or the aroma of that freshly brewed coffee in the morning, make sure to get yourself tested. This loss of ability to detect one or more smells may be temporary or permanent.

Loss of smell has been a prominent symptom of Covid-19, which has left many with long-term smell distortions. In such cases, smell training can help regain one’s sense of smell. For those whose senses are still subdued, there’s a new cookbook that can help. Taste & Flavour, written by chefs Ryan Riley and Kimberley Duke, combines characteristics of culinary science and medical research to look at taste, smell and other sensory perceptions. Food therapy can assist these senses recover on their own by taking help of the other senses. For instance, tasting flavours or smelling foods with certain textures can stimulate saliva and the trigeminal nerve, which is responsible for sensation in the face and motor functions such as biting and chewing. It is the most complex of the cranial nerves.

Some experts believe that patients with post-viral loss of smell have roughly 60-80% chance of regaining it within a year. As the sense of smell usually diminishes with age, the recovery could take longer for older adults. Amitabh Malik, chief ENT at Paras Hospital, a multi-speciality chain, suggests, “To regain smell, one can adjust spices while cooking spicy food… it helps gradually in developing senses.”

Smell training helps too. Sniff at least four different odours like mint, eucalyptus, lemon, rose, cinnamon, coffee, strawberry, twice a day every day for months. It helps the brain recover and reorganise. Many smell training kits contain a set of four common fragrances, namely rose, lemon, clove and eucalyptus. Each of these are used for a few minutes a day to train the nose for the sense of smelling in case of anosmia.

Researchers suggest if patients sniff different odours, it helps the brain recognise the smells. “This training is best as compared to receiving steroids to regain sense of smell because steroids have side-effects like high blood pressure and mood swings. Smell training, on the other hand, is pocket-friendly and doesn’t have any side-effects,” says Malik.

Doctors who have recovered from Covid-19 like Priyanjana Acharyya Sharma, ENT specialist, Miracles Mediclinic, Gurugram, and Apollo Cradle Hospital, Delhi, says sense of smell, which is lost gradually by the fifth day, does not go off immediately, but is a slow and gradual process. “In some cases, it persists and causes discomfort. The sense of taste is there, but because of no smell, the brain cannot perceive what we are tasting and that causes incoordination. In many patients, it might take more time to return. Supportive therapy is best like supplements, light steam, lubrication of the nostrils with regular breathing exercises. Some patients have also responded to steroid sprays where the smell has been long gone. A good diet with immune boosters like zinc supplements, exercise and controlling iron and calcium deficiencies helps. Loss of smell in long-standing cases needs adequate ENT consultation and evaluation,” says Sharma.

Losing sense of smell affects taste sensation, negatively impacts quality of life and can also lead to feelings of loss, loneliness and anxiety. Delhi-based Jyoti Kapoor, senior psychiatrist and founder of mental well-being organisation Manasthali, says, “Olfaction is one of the most primitive senses and is closely linked to memory formation and emotional perceptions. Smell affects the secretion of neurochemicals, which is why certain smells make us happy and uplifted, while certain others cause nausea. Losing the ability is a form of invisible handicap and a person feels alienated as he cannot connect with the world as earlier.”

Adaptation is the key to evolution. While treatment of anosmia may be sought, focusing on sharpening the other sense organs like sight and hearing to enhance connectivity with the environment is important. Smita Naram, co-founder, Ayushakti, an Ayurvedic health centre, recommends ‘nasya’ treatment, which is putting two-four drops of warm sesame oil in the nostrils in the morning. “This is an effective method to practice sitting at home or isolation centres. A Covid patient can also try a natural home remedy like consuming garlic as it has strong anti-viral and immunity-boosting qualities, which can help in enhancing smell and getting back taste.”

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