Abbie’s Story: Parosmia Following COVID-19 and Tips to Manage It
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 smell but wasn’t worried as I knew, or thought I knew, that it would go back to normal once I’d recovered from the virus. As I’d expected, a month later my senses returned, first taste then slowly followed by smell. I was finally able to enjoy food and the smells around me again. Little did I know this would only last a very short period as in October, I was suddenly introduced to the world of Parosmia!
Foods, objects, people and even the air started to have an unpleasant, sickly-sweet smell that constantly followed me around. Forever asking friends and family ‘can you smell that?’ to which of course they all said ‘no’. I felt like I was going insane! Two weeks later and it had begun affecting my taste too. Bread was the first food ‘to go’ and then I remember eating some chicken but having to spit it out straight away because the taste was so awful. My mum and I started doing some internet searches to try and figure out what was going on and that’s when I came across the term ‘Parosmia’ – a long covid symptom that distorts people’s smell and taste. Since that day, it’s been a long and difficult journey figuring out ‘safe’ foods (foods that I can eat with no or minimal distorted bad taste) and ‘trigger’ foods and smells that I avoid. For the first month, I was living off a very small list which consisted of cold pasta, cheese, pita bread, grapes and watermelon. I ended up losing over a stone in weight very quickly because I was skipping meals, as trying to find food that I could eat became increasingly challenging with every mouthful usually leaving me feeling disappointed. Eating became a chore rather than pleasure!
As a young person living with Parosmia, this is one of the most challenging things I’ve had to deal with. I’ve always been a huge foodie and a sociable person, but it felt like all of this was taken away overnight. I never realised the emotional impact losing your true taste and smell could have. I’ve had to learn to deal with feelings of anxiety and frustration and at times had some dark moments with my mental health. Locked away in my bedroom hiding under the duvet to block out the bad smells at dinner time, avoiding the kitchen at work and eating alone in a separate part of the building, crying after showering because the smell of the shampoo was so bad and I felt like it was stuck in my hair, missing dinners out with friends and family…. even just people’s daily conversations often revolve around food, and it can feel extremely lonely and isolating when you can no longer join in or look forward to things you once did.
I’m only a few months into this and still navigating my way through, dealing with bad smells and tastes daily. At times it can feel very overwhelming, but I’ve found a few useful things that have helped me manage my Parosmia, so I hope by sharing them I may be able to help someone else too.
My Top Tips:
- Wear Nose Plugs
These have been a game changer! I ordered a pair of swimmers’ nose plugs online and ever since they arrived, they’ve done wonders. The plugs completely block out bad smells and taste, so I’m now able to join my family while dinner is cooking and sit and have meals with them, this was particularly good for Christmas day! After losing weight from lack of food, they’ve enabled me to maintain my weight and get lots of the healthy nutrients needed back into my diet. My initial thoughts were ‘this feels uncomfortable’ and ‘I look very silly’ but I recommend persevering with them. At the start I struggled to swallow food or drink but after some practice, it soon became like second nature and has enabled me to eat lots of food again. Top tip – rinse your mouth out or eat a strong tolerable flavour before taking the nose plug off to get rid of any bad tastes that might linger. Whilst nose plugs are extremely useful, I don’t rely on them all the time as I feel it’s important to train my taste buds without them too.
- Create a Visual Food Diary
Planning three meals a day is a struggle for anyone but when you have Parosmia that can feel extremely daunting. It’s often recommended to keep a list of safe foods written down. I did this in the beginning but would struggle to think of any actual meals to make from the list of ingredients. I decided to create an Instagram page (Parosmia_andme) where I take photos of my food and meals, post them, add my thoughts, and rate it out of 10. Soon enough, I’d created my own visual diary and menu which helps track progress and also takes away the worry of ‘what can I eat tonight’ as I look through my page and ratings and decide from there. If you don’t use or have access to social media, no problem – create a picture album or file on your phone and take photos of foods you eat.
- Taste Training
Once you’ve experienced some of the bad tastes it’s very difficult to push yourself to keep trying foods. Exposure is so important though as it can be quite easy to stick to ‘safe foods’ but Parosmia has a mind of its own – something that was not safe today might be OK next week so it’s important to keep trying things. Also don’t let ingredients put you off. Since having Parosmia I discovered that the way ingredients are listed on packaging is in the order of what’s in there, from the most to the least. Garlic has been one of my main triggers, but I’ve found that if I buy foods that have garlic towards the bottom of the list on the ingredients, I can eat it – before I would’ve avoided trying it straight away. This has meant I’ve been able to introduce a lot more foods back into my diet. You have to be brave, be adventurous and keep on going.
- Tell People
Don’t be afraid to tell people what you’re going through. At first, I tried to hide it, especially at work and with friends because I didn’t want to cause a fuss. However, I couldn’t keep this up as it was such a struggle to manage. As soon as I spoke to people about Parosmia and shared with them what it is like for me, it helped. Similarly, joining some support groups that are available and using resources like those that Fifth Sense provides, have been so helpful. Being part of a community that understands what you’re going through is so important. However, learn to filter out any negative comments you hear or see and focus on the positive – remember, Parosmia is all just part of the healing process, and we will get there!
Other Things I’m Doing:
- Smell training (twice a day)
- Eating foods cool or at room temperature instead of hot
- Vitamin and food supplements
- Pushing myself – I sat in a coffee shop for the first time in 3 months recently and after the initial 5-10 minutes it was OK!
To any parents, friends, or partners of someone struggling with Parosmia…believe them, be patient, be supportive and if you’re reading this, continue doing what you’re doing! I would be totally lost without my friends and family who have been amazing, it really does make a world of difference having people there for you.