Richland doctor helping COVID-19 patients recover from parosmia

RICHLAND, Wash. — There’s nothing like the smell of your favorite scent, or a taste that takes you back in time.

“We call our sense of smell one of the most primitive of our senses because we’ve all gone thru the experience when we smell something and it immediately takes us back to a memory,” Richland ENT Dr. Sean Demars said.

But for the millions of people who caught COVID-19, a large portion lost that sense while sick.

Dr. Demars, with Kadlec Ear Nose and Throat in Richland, said even months after recovering, some people are left with the lingering symptom.

“Smell and smell problems is one of the surprising things that we did not realize and early on, we found out that was one of the hallmarks of the disease,” he said.

Dr. Demars said the nerve endings where the smell is detected, are close to the brain and aren’t well protected, leaving them vulnerable when someone catches a virus.

“Those nerves right in that area become infected to the point where they start to swell they start to lose their function and then sometimes those nerves actually die,” he explained.

This results in loss of smell and taste.

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Even worse, Dr. Demars said some people are living with parosmia.

“To where, instead of smelling normal things they will smell smoke, is one common complaint, dead – dead material, rotting flesh, rotting kind of smells, are also very common complaints,” he said patients have been coming into his Richland office with those symptoms.

Dr. Demars said it takes work, but there is hope for recovery.

It comes in the form of smell therapy.

“It’s actually where you do physical therapy for your nose and you pick multiple different scents that are familiar to you. You focus on what you’re smelling so that you try to retrain your brain that that’s what you’re smelling,” he said.

Doctors are also concerned about the wellbeing of people dealing with parosmia.

Dr. Demars said losing one’s sense of smell and taste could cause weight loss and affect emotional health.

“Because a lot of us actually receive a lot of enjoyment from eating and if you take that away it can cause a significant amount of grief and even depression,” he said.

But there is hope, Dr. Demars has seen success over time with smell therapy and sometimes with a saline rinse with steroids added in.