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One day in kindergarten, Alex Pieracuccini sat down, watched his companions pass around the spices, and sniffed them out as a sensory exercise.

Currently 30 year old Pieraccini couldn’t odor anything.

“I thought’nothing would happen’,” said Pieracuccini, a psychologist living in Baltimore. “I talked to adults and remember that I couldn’t believe it for a long time.”

Pieracuccini has congenital anosmia and chronic olfaction disorders. This is a rare condition. Approximately 1 in 10,000 people are affected, according to 2016 figures from the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Hereditary and Rare Disease Information Center.

But now, as a prominent symptomatology of COVID-19, millions of people have lost their sense of smell and many have not regained everything.

Increased attention given to Loss of smell Chronic diseases prompted new research, which intrigued olfactory researchers who were devoted to understanding more about the coronavirus. Meanwhile, scientists have yet to find a definitive cure for the loss of smell.

At the very least, the pandemic has highlighted the daily struggles of those who live with what are called “invisible obstacles.” It can also bring breakthroughs to scientists and researchers in this area.

During the pandemic, Pieracuccini said, “I’ve had a lot of validation experience because people didn’t understand it and it disappeared.” “Another part of me is like,’Why did it take so long to be visible?’”

Awareness surge

According to Google Trends, a Google search for the term “smell loss” in the United States jumped from the week’s highest interest value of 3 to 100 on March 22, 2020. The search recorded even higher hits in the last week of December. , As the country approaches the peak of the average new cases per week.

Dr. Andrew Lane, director of the Johns Hopkins Sinus Center, said the virus appears to specifically target the sensory cell tissues needed for the development of sensory cells. This is why loss of smell is a common symptom of COVID-19.

“People may not know that, because people are not so in harmony with their sense of smell,” Lane said. “If you formally test people, you’ll probably find more.”

Pamela Dalton, a sensory researcher at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, said the pandemic may have drawn people’s attention to the long-term effects of anosmia. She said the center was busy calling for help desperately.

According to Dalton, the rise in attention has caused some resentment among those who have dealt with the loss of smell in the long run.

“Of course, people are like,’I’ve had this for 20 years and have dealt with it.’ I’m resentful that it wasn’t getting any more attention before. “

Lane hopes that the additional attention will lead to more treatment options for all kinds of sensory loss.

“This can benefit people who have lost their sense of smell for other reasons, because all this attention and research can lead to a better understanding,” Lane said. ..

Ken Halstead, 38, states that he is currently cautious about disclosing his long-term olfaction disorder because of its association with COVID-19. Around Christmas, he was in a liquor store when a woman advised her to check out a new bottle of peppermint Smirnoff with the Smirnoff label.

“I said,’Oh, I have no sense of smell,’” said Halstead, an information technology expert in Alexandria, Virginia. “She almost dropped the bottle,” he thought he had a COVID.

Dana Pair, an international developer, was infected with COVID-19 a few days before Christmas when she visited her family from her home in Upperfelspoint. She didn’t smell or taste anything at Christmas dinner. The 27-year-old pair didn’t know much about chronic sensory loss before losing themselves. She has regained some of her scent, but is still experiencing severe scent distortion.

“There’s really no way for others to fully understand it, especially if you’ve never experienced something similar,” said Pear, who moved to Knoxville, Tennessee.

It’s a lonely state, the pair said. But she tries not to stick to it.

“In a grand plan of things, the sense of smell and the sense of being alive are two very different things,” said the pair. “You don’t want to be considered ungrateful and complaining.”

Different types and causal conditions

There are several different types of dysosmia, or loss of sensation, from temporary and partial to chronic and permanent. Some people grow up without being able to smell, while others get symptoms from traumatic brain injury, severe burns, and viruses. Some people, especially those recovering from COVID, experience parosmia, or sensory distortion.

Some people lose some of their sense of smell due to their age. Dalton also said that there are environmental and occupational factors that can erode the senses over time, such as air pollution and poisonous gases. She has worked closely with firefighters, for example, in response to the 9/11 attack.

COVID-19 attacks cells and causes inflammation, including around receptors in the human nose. Inflammation can last for days, weeks, or even months. But unlike other viruses that can affect a person’s sense of smell and taste, such as the common cold, coronaviruses are usually less congested, so they are more rare, Dalton said.

“The way to shut down the system is like a light switch,” Dalton said. “People fell asleep or had breakfast and suddenly everything changed. It’s really dramatic.”

A study published in January surveyed 2,581 patients in 18 European hospitals and found that nearly 86% of patients with mild COVID-19 developed anosmia. Ninety-five percent of them regained their scent sensation after six months. However, for some people, symptoms, including anosmia, persisted. This is an event known as long-distance COVID.

Dalton said there may be underlying biological reasons, but it’s not clear why some people lost their sense of smell as a symptomatology of their illness or others.

Christine Creed, 51, said it was frustrating to see a friend infected with COVID recover her sense of smell in just two weeks. Creed, who lives in Dundalk, caught the virus in November and couldn’t smell it for about a month.

Now she is still experiencing odor distortion. One day she will smell non-existent cigarette smoke. Vegetables have no taste, beef is rancid, and peanut butter is “no go”.

“You never know what you can eat every day, you never get that true feeling of hunger,” Creed said. “I don’t want this to be the worst enemy”

Although there are no life-threatening side effects of losing the sense of smell, Dalton said “strong evidence” indicates a loss of smell that causes depression, especially among those who suddenly lose it.

Safety is also affected because people cannot smell the dangers of smoke, natural gas and rotten food. It can also cause weight loss.

Treatment options or lack thereof

Treatment depends on the cause of the loss of smell, according to Lane of the Hopkins Sinsal Center. He treats patients with sinus problems with anti-inflammatory steroids or, in severe cases, surgery. Unfortunately, there is not much that doctors can do for anosmia associated with congenital, viral, or trauma.

Young people are more likely to recover Smell sensation, Dalton said, but nothing is guaranteed. She said recovery may be related to the passage of time, as the sense of smell tissue can regenerate.

Smell retraining therapy is one method people use to try to rehabilitate their senses. According to Dalton, those who previously enrolled in a body training or retraining session tend to report a more thorough recovery. However, for those who could not smell, this remedy is ineffective.

Creed has used scented scent training kits such as orange, tea tree oil, and peppermint, but has been less successful. She can remember how each should smell, but the scent still appears distorted.

Halstead made some casual attempts to find the cause of his anosmia. But in the end, he feels he doesn’t need treatment. His anosmia is less emotionally painful than the person who acquired it. He hasn’t lost anything.

“For me, it’s not life-changing,” Halstead said. “It’s just a habit.”

The Monel Center has developed an olfactory test to screen for COVID. It tends to be better at predicting the virus than measuring body temperature or testing for respiratory symptoms. More and more people are reaching out to take part in research trials, Dalton said.

In the meantime, in the absence of an effective cure, Canton’s Pieracuccini finds it helpful to ask friends and loved ones to help fill the gap when they are afraid to miss something. I did.

“It’s really important to have people you can trust to help, understand and believe when you say you’re having this difficulty,” she said.


Lost sensation of smell: Is it COVID-19?

© 2021 The Baltimore Sun.
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