For sufferers of parosmia, everything they eat or drink can taste disgusting – like sewage, burning rubber or even rotten flesh.
After Covid, “huge numbers” of people are being left with health conditions that affect their senses and how sensitive they are.
And while around one-third of people with long Covid have reported a loss of taste or smell, others are facing a condition even more debilitating.
Scientists aren’t completely sure how the two are linked, and there doesn’t yet appear to be a perfect cure.
What are the symptoms?
Almost a year after 70-year-old Lawson Mccullough had recovered from Covid, he was suddenly hit with parosmia – eliminating the vast majority of his favourite foods overnight.
He had to survive on just tomato soup and rice pudding as he was unable to stomach the “sickly sour” smell now associated with almost everything else.
For others, this can manifest as burning rubber, smoke, sewage or even rotten flesh.
Lawson, who retired from the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry five years ago, said: “I thought everything was normal and forgot all about it.
“Then in February 2021, all of a sudden, parosmia hit and everything literally tasted disgusting.”
— Fifth Sense (@FifthSenseUK) September 23, 2021
He added: “I’m very sweet-toothed and have been all my life and, strangely, chocolate was one of the things I could eat along with tomato soup and rice pudding.
“I ended up on a diet where I’d have soup for my lunch and rice pudding at teatime as that’s all I could face.
“I suspect there were others suffering much worse than I did – some people have gone from around 12 stone to six, or ended up in hospital because they just couldn’t eat.”
What causes parosmia?
At the moment, researchers don’t have a definite answer for how Covid can trigger parosmia in some patients.
It appears to be linked to damaged smell-detecting cells in the nose, and can also be caused by colds, sinus conditions or head injuries.
Some people who have reported anosmia – a loss of taste or smell – have reported their senses coming back, but distorted.
Medical journals have documented the likes coffee becoming “a nightmare… began to smell pungent like gasoline.”
Is parosmia permanent, or can it be treated?
Lawson, who lives in Edinburgh, estimates his senses of taste and smell are now around 60% back to normal.
Over time, it’s thought most other patients will be able to recover too.
While there’s no set cure, people have found nasal sprays and “smell testing” kits which have helped ease their symptoms faster.
Lawson got in touch with charity Fifth Sense, which offers advice on how to use essential oils or household items to retrain your sense of smell.
Lawson also spoke to his GP who prescribed him a nasal spray, and advised him to take supplements for zinc and vitamins A and E.
“The spray is the one thing I’ve stuck with and I use it every morning,” he said.
For me, the only healer is time”
“Lots of people online suggest trying this and trying that – ‘it worked for me’ – but most of us have discovered it’s purely coincidental.
“Some people’s parosmia has cleared up a lot quicker than others. Sometimes within two or three months, but others over a year or 18 months.”
He added: “I’m probably 60-70% better now. Most foods are tasting almost as normal, but I’m still having problems with most breads and coffee – they still have this disgusting taste and smell.
“But for me, the only healer is time.”