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COVID long-hauler facing distorted sense of smell

It's called parosmia
covid long hauler
Posted at 11:39 PM, Jan 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-20 07:15:11-05

INDIANAPOLIS — Kim Lagle has caught COVID-19 twice.

"It was after the second time that I lost taste and smell, what everybody talks about. I regained that back about six weeks after I lost it," she said.

All her senses came back in October 2021. Lagle thought she'd be fine since things seemed like they were back to normal. However, she was mistaken.

"I will tell you, I used to be one of those people. I didn't care if I caught it. If I caught it, it's my time to catch it. I'll build my immune system up and I'll be good to go," Lagle said.

Two months later, she learned she is a COVID-19 long-hauler. To make things worse, along with the usual symptoms of fatigue and headaches, she has one of the rarer symptoms of it: parosmia.

"(On) Dec. 2, I went to a restaurant and walked in. The smell of the food cooking made me vomit. I had to run out of the restaurant and vomit right in front of it," Lagle said. "I thought I was crazy because I just keep smelling this smell. Then, I went to a gas station and I got Sprite. It tasted like ammonia to me."

Lagle says any type of red meat, steak, bacon, basically anything she used to like — she can't eat it anymore.

"If I liked ranch dressing, I can't eat it anymore. If I liked mayonnaise, I can't eat it anymore. If I didn't like mustard, I love mustard now," Lagle said.

This condition, parosmia, distorts a person's sense of smell. It has caused Lagle more issues than just not being able to eat certain foods.

"I'm battling depression right now because of it. I go through mass anxiety especially when I have to go to dinner with people because I don't know how I'm going to react," she said.

Dr. Elisa Illing with IU Health has done extensive research on parosmia. She says what people experience typically falls into three categories.

"Some people will say food will taste rubbery. Some people will say it tastes like trash or something. Some people say it taste like chemicals, cleaning chemicals," Dr. Illing said.

More people getting infected means more people who've come to Dr. Illing and her team for help. She says it's common for upper respiratory viruses, like coronavirus, to cause cause a person to lose their sense of smell and/or taste, but the lingering effects some experience, brought on by COVID, is something they're still studying.

"We're trying to determine why people have these different interpretations of their smell and is that predictive of how quickly they'll recover," she said. "There are some therapies that we do have some preliminary data on that seem to be helpful. That includes things like nasal steroids spray and something called olfactory training."

Despite the anxiety Lagle continues to face, she says there are some bright spots. She owns a firework shop and said she was relieved after lighting off some fireworks.

"I could still smell the gun powder and smoke, which was a good thing for me because one of the fears that I have is that I'm not going to be able to smell my house on fire or a gas leak," she said.

Lagle is also is getting through this tough time by turning to social media. It helps her feel like she's not dealing with this alone

"There are support groups out there and there are thousands of people like us and that is the biggest thing because when I try to explain (to people) where I am at, they don't understand or they want to give sympathy but it's hard to give sympathy to something you don't understand," she said.