Welcome to Fifth Sense
Fifth Sense is the charity for people affected by smell and taste disorders. We’ve been supporting people experiencing problems with their senses of smell and taste since we were established in 2012.
Smell and taste changes have been a prominent symptom of the COVID-19 pandemic. We know how frustrating and upsetting they can be and we have been supporting people since the pandemic began. We hope the information on this page will help, but if you have any questions or need further information then feel free to get in touch via email at: email@example.com
Why do viral infections such as COVID-19 affect our sense of smell?
We have known that viral infections can cause loss of smell (anosmia) and distortions of the sense of smell (parosmia) for a long time. The exact mechanism behind post-viral olfactory dysfunction (PVOD) isn’t fully understood, but it is clear that the various viruses that cause the common cold, including flu, damage the smell receptor cells at the top of the nasal cavity often leading to loss of the fine hair endings which pick up smell molecules from the mucus in the nose. To find out more, please click here.
Will my sense of smell get better?
The good news is that there is more chance of natural recovery following post-viral olfactory dysfunction than with any other cause of smell impairment. Any recovery can take time, however, and different people will experience different levels of improvement. Studies suggest that even with no treatment at all, 1 in 3 people will experience some recovery of their sense of smell, however some people may not recover at all.
Joanne lost her sense of smell following a bad cold in 2015 and then struggled with parosmia. She faced many of the same challenges as people experiencing ongoing problems with their sense of smell following Covid-19 infection. Joanne’s sense of smell did recover over time, however. She’s kindly shared her ‘road to recovery’ story to give hope to others. Read it here.
Some things smell disgusting. What is going on?
Parosmia is the medical term for experiencing distortions of the sense of smell. Parosmia is a common and extremely unpleasant symptom of post-viral olfactory dysfunction, find out more here. Someone with parosmia may be able to detect odours, but the smell of certain things, or sometimes everything, is different and often unpleasant. This can be very difficult for people, but the good news is that it usually improves over time.
We have also heard from parents whose children have been experiencing parosmia following a Covid-19 infection. We have created an information sheet aimed at parents and healthcare professionals which you can download below.
My name is Abbie, I’m 24 years old and I live in London. My story starts back in August 2021 at a family wedding. During the reception I realised tiramisu no longer tasted like coffee and wine was like water! The next day I tested positive for coronavirus. I had quickly lost my taste and… Read more “Abbie’s Story: Parosmia Following COVID-19 and Tips to Manage It”
How can I see a medical specialist?
If you are based in the UK, there are a number of ENT (Ear, Nose and Throat) clinics we have a relationship with that may be able to investigate the changes in your sense of smell and taste. You would need a referral to one of these clinics from your GP: www.fifthsense.org.uk/clinics
If you are based outside of the UK and are looking for information on clinics then, please contact us directly at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Can smell training help?
Smell training can help you to make the most of whatever smelling ability you do have and to help you notice any changes and improvements to your sense of smell. Some people do find it helpful as part of any natural recovery they experience. It’s important not to think of this as a restorative therapy; there is no scientific evidence that smell training alone can restore your sense of smell following a viral infection.
Smell training can be done with anything you have at home that is safe to smell; spices in your kitchen cupboards or fragranced beauty products for example. You can also use essential oils too. You do not need to buy an expensive smell training kit in order to do this.
What’s more important is to practice mindful smelling whenever you can throughout the day; when you’re making dinner, for example, try smelling the ingredients you are using whilst doing so.
Watch a discussion on smell training between Professor Carl Philpott, Fifth Sense trustee and Medical Director, and Dr. Steven Munger, Director of the University of Florida Center for Smell and Taste:
Why has my enjoyment of food been affected and what can I do?
Much of the flavour of food and drink comes from our sense of smell. The olfactory receptor cells at the top of our nasal cavity detect molecules of food and drink that is in our mouths. When you lose your sense of smell, this ability to detect flavour is also lost.
The word taste refers to what is sensed by the taste cells, located on the front and back of the tongue and on the sides, back and roof of the mouth. These cells enable us to detect the basic tastes, sweet, sour, salt, bitter and umami.
If you have a problem with your sense of smell then you might find you become more reliant on sensations such as texture, temperature and spiciness. The ‘Food for Thought’ section on our website contains recipes and food tips shared by Fifth Sense members. We hope you find them useful and enjoyable.
Support Fifth Sense and get involved in our Work
We hope you have found the information on this page helpful. As a small charity, donations are very important to help support our work. If you’d like to make a donation then you can do so safely and securely here.
We are always looking for people to get involved in our work, whether to share their experiences or to volunteer. If you would like to get involved then email us at email@example.com
How can I keep myself safe?
Our sense of smell is an important ‘early-warning system’ for detecting danger. If you’re experiencing smell impairment following Covid-19 then it is important you take steps to keep yourself safe from dangers such as natural gas, smoke and spoiled food.
Visit the safety section of our website for more information.
Download our Safety Sense information sheet:
Supporting children, young people and parents
Fifth Sense started receiving reports of children and teenagers experiencing anosmia and parosmia following Covid-19 infection in late 2021 and we subsequently released a statement on this. We have been working with parents to help them support their children and to co-create information resources such as the information sheets below. We have a section on our website dedicated to children and young people and their parents/carers.
We know this can be a difficult and distressing experience for parents and children. We have established a Parent Support Group to give parents the opportunity to share information and experiences. Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to join the group.
How can I connect with other people affected by smell and taste disorders?
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been running a series of free virtual events called #LetsTalkSmellAndTaste to support people affected by smell and taste disorders. Visit the events page here.
We also hold regular virtual cafes where you can meet other people to share experiences and get support. Find out more here.
You can join the Fifth Sense community and receive regular newsletters here: www.fifthsense.org.uk/join/
What hopes are there for the future?
The Covid-19 pandemic has prompted a great deal of interest and wider awareness of smell disorders. Fifth Sense is driving forwards patient-focused research in this area through our Priority Setting Partnership, which has given people affected by smell and taste disorders, their families and clinicians the opportunity to put forward their priorities for future research.
Fifth Sense is also working with scientists and drug development professionals who are looking to develop restorative therapies for smell loss, with post-viral olfactory dysfunction a key area. There is a long way to go, but we hope that this area will see significant advances in the years ahead as has happened in the areas of sight and hearing loss. Find out more in this video, filmed at our 2021 National Conference.
Are there any more resources that I can access?
covid:aid is the UK’s national charity dedicated to supporting those significantly affected by Covid-19. We are here for people throughout the pandemic and beyond.