There are now over 29 million coronavirus cases in the U.S. From body malaise to shortness of breath, the virus presents itself in different ways. One of the most common and interesting symptoms is anosmia or smell blindness. An NIH review studied a total of 11,054 COVID-19 patients and found that this loss of smell often precedes the other, more severe symptoms of the virus. This loss of smell can suddenly occur in people infected with COVID-19 and is often associated with loss of taste, too. Loss of smell in COVID-positive patients may happen with or without a stuffy or runny nose; in some cases, this may even be permanent.
Inflammation and Loss of Smell
C.T. scans of people with COVID-19 who have reported anosmia reveal a cleft syndrome – this happens when swollen soft tissue and mucus block the olfactory cleft, the part within the nose responsible for smelling. The novel coronavirus makes its way into the body by attaching to cells in the upper respiratory tract. Once the virus permeates these cells, with the help of the TMPRSS2 protein and replicates, the inflammatory response is then activated.
Inflammation is the immune system’s response when it detects foreign and possibly harmful bodies. A column by University of London consultant rhinologist and ENT surgeon, Simon Gane, and University of Reading associate professor, Jane Parker, attributes anosmia to this inflammation and swelling phenomenon. They believe that when the immune system can rid the body of the virus, the swelling subsides, and the sense of smell returns to normal.
However, the loss of smell persists even after the person tests negative for the virus in numerous recorded cases. Dr. Gane and Professor Parker present a theoretical explanation based on inflammation physiology: inflammation could trigger the release of chemicals from other systems that may damage tissues and possibly olfactory neurons– the receptors of the sense of smell – in the process. Luckily, olfactory neurons are regenerative.
Post-Hospitalization Care and “Smell Therapy”
The onslaught of the pandemic overwhelmed the healthcare system. Patients who were lucky enough to make it out of the hospital and “recover” often don’t get the necessary post-discharge care they need, as hospitals around the country don’t have enough resources and staff. Those who are declared “COVID-free” but are still showing mild symptoms must stay home and wait out these symptoms.
The lack of extensive and long-term recovery treatment plans for patients is by no means hospitals’ fault. The pandemic nearly paralyzed the entire healthcare system, and it doesn’t help that physicians and nurses have been in short supply even before this major health crisis. The spike further exacerbates this shortage in demands for COVID-19 care professionals.
Fortunately, the rise of telemedicine and remote learning is helping address this need. These strategies allow healthcare workers to care for more patients through online consultations and virtual health monitoring. More importantly, they provide training to a broader population to prepare for today’s healthcare workforce demands. The pandemic has also lead to a new way in which nurses can learn new skills. For qualified nurses who want to learn new skills, there are online R.N. to BSN programs that can give them the necessary abilities to provide specialized care for patients, especially in rehabilitation. These online programs have helped ensure that today’s nurses can keep up with the modern demands of COVID-19, such as loss of smell, although the pandemic has made in-classroom learning very difficult.
While nurses and physicians are battling the pandemic in hospitals, other organizations take the reins during recovery. Aiding them in post-discharge care are charities and other organizations offering “smell therapy” and other services to help manage lingering effects from COVID-19. These services can last up to four months per individual and can be safely done at home.
As vaccines are slowly rolled out, health experts are hopeful that this will significantly help manage the spread of the virus, and this will give them headway in finding ways to counter the virus’s lingering effects like anosmia.