GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — As people fall ill with COVID-19, they often lose their senses of smell and taste. For some, it takes months for those senses to come back — long after their other symptoms are gone.
Studies show about 83% of people who test positive for coronavirus lose their smell and taste.
“It’s one of those things that you don’t realize until you don’t have it anymore. You don’t realize what you use it for,” said Tamika Parrish, a Grand Rapids native now living out of state. “Like with the kids, it’s a safety thing, too. I can’t tell if something is burning. Things that you don’t even think about I think about constantly, every day now.”
She contracted coronavirus in August. Her first symptom was body aches. About a week later, she noticed something else.
“I got in the shower and I started feeling better, but then I went to try and smell my soap. I couldn’t smell my soap, and I was like, ‘This is so crazy,'” she recalled.
Her sense of taste was affected, too. She can distinguish sweet from salty, but the rest is off.
“Have you ever had food that wasn’t seasoned, that it’s dull and bland? … Everything tastes like that,” she explained.
Dr. Richard Strabbing, founder of Michigan ENT & Allergy Specialists in West Michigan, said research shows the virus causes inflammation in your nose and mouth that damages the nerves you use to enjoy tastes and scents. It’s called anosmia.
“It really cuts into your quality of life,” Strabbing said. “Patients have pretty basic concerns like, ‘How can I smell a gas leak. How would I smell if there was food in my refrigerator that was rotten that I wouldn’t want to feed to my family?’ And these are legit concerns.”
About 30% of people who develop the condition, known as anosmia, due to COVID-19 get their smell and taste back in a few weeks, but doctors now believe a small percentage will never regain those senses. Allergies, diabetes, smoking and being over the age of 50 decrease the chances of a full recovery, and the older a patient is, the less likely recovery becomes. Men are affected more often than women.
“I’m like, will that be me? Is that me?” Parrish wondered.
She has been without her senses for nearly six months. She said the hardest part is missing out on moments with her 4-year-old twins.
“I’m a very affectionate mom. I like to smell them, smell their hair. I can’t smell them anymore,” she said.
The frequency of the symptom means research into anosmia has ramped up. Doctors believe the increased attention will lead to a solution.
For now, though, there is no cure.
“There is no recourse for this. There is nothing they can give you,” Parrish said. “It’s just something I have to live with, deal with and pray hopefully one day it comes back.”