GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) — There is still lots of research to be done on the rotten-smelling aftermath of COVID-19 called parosmia. The condition distorts a person’s sense of smell, turning senses once pleasant into a putrid, garbage-like smell.
Over a year ago, 9OYS spoke with local mother Danielle Meskunas, whose daughter was suffering from parosmia after contracting COVID-19 back in November of 2020. By February that next year, food began smelling awful to her. Raspberries, garlic, peanut butter, onions, meats, most hot foods and more would trigger a rancid smell that made it impossible to even be in the same room as certain foods.
According to Paul Bolin, Chair of Medicine at Brody School of Medicine and Chief of Medicine at ECU Medical Center, it’s something affecting a larger number of people than many realize.
“Our olfactory nerves are right under where we know a binding site for some of the at least early variants of COVID are, so this is not surprising,” he said. “There are some early data that some of the later variants that there’s not as much loss of smell. And we know as this thing has mutated that it preferentially bonds in different parts of the body, so that’s not surprising either.”
He says typically over 80% of patients will have improvement or resolution of their smell-related issues within one year. Things that are working include olfactory (smell) training, a process of smelling strong scents and retraining the brain to smell properly again, steroids, nasal steroids and nasal rinses, to name a few.
But for Danielle Meskunas’ daughter Lorelei, it’s something completely different that now brings her relief in her every day: chiropractic work.
“There was a little like, ‘hum’ going on about chiropractic care. And I was like, ‘you know what, what’s the worst that can happen?’ They pop her back and nothing happens, or maybe it could heal her,” said Meskunas.
Within two weeks of chiropractic care …
“We were actually eating at a local restaurant outside and they gave her ketchup. And ketchup has onions in it, which is one of the big triggers for people with parosmia. And she dipped her French fry in ketchup and ate it and then turned and looked at me with this huge excited face. And she’s like ‘I just ate ketchup!’
“It was so big. And I looked at my salad and there was an onion on it. And I shoved it right under her nose, like, ‘what does it smell like?’ And she’s like ‘nothing’. She was so excited. And we had a big celebratory dinner of spaghetti and garlic bread and all the things she couldn’t eat that she was so missing.”
Danielle Meskunas said the crazy part of this disease is everyone seems to heal differently and through different treatments. Meskunas is a part of a Facebook group Parosmia patients, she says she’s heard stories of people finding relief through getting their septum pierced, injections and even surgeries as an extreme.
“Check in with your mental health first and foremost, because there’s so much anxiety around this. Just remember your body is healing and just be kind to yourself,”, Danielle Meskunas said.
Her advice for others dealing with something similar, Lorelei says, “It takes time” and “to be patient with it.”
As of July, rotten and garbage-like scents for Lorelei are gone. Her mom said she is able to smell things like perfumes but only when they are held close to her nose, and she still has a long road ahead in getting her full sense of smell back.
“I still can’t smell really,” Lorelei said, “I can recall certain smells like I’ve had a few surgeries on my arm recently and I just keep smelling the hospital.”
The next steps for Lorelei in her recovery are continuing chiropractic care and trying to gain more of her sense of smell back over time.
A big concern for the Meskunas’ was weight loss. They heard from others in their online group that the symptoms were making it so difficult to eat that many lost over 100 pounds in just a few short months. Shockingly, many found that for whatever reason, Burger King Whoppers didn’t trigger the parosmia, and that was how Lorelei was able to keep her calorie and protein intake up. Another option is finding neutral-flavored protein shakes that can be easy to get down.
Bolin said beware of Zinc sprays as a treatment option, as many of them are not pharmaceutical grade.