‘Physical therapy’ developed for recovering Covid-19 patients looking to retrain their lost sense of smell

‘Physical therapy’ developed for recovering Covid-19 patients looking to retrain their lost sense of smell

Doctors working with recovering Covid-19 patients experiencing protracted, long term loss of smell have developed a kind of “physical therapy” or active rehab for the nose to regain some olfactory capabilities.

People with long-lasting loss of smell following a Covid-19 infection are advised to visit with ear, nose and throat specialists in case there were secondary infections which might explain the impairment of their olfactory sense. 

It would also rule out seasonal allergies or other underlying conditions which may have snuck in or developed while the patient was fighting off Covid-19. However, once it’s narrowed down to being purely a post-Covid loss of smell, other interventions are required.

“In most cases, smell loss is temporary, but it can take months or even years to recover,” said researcher Dr. Tran Locke, an assistant professor of head and neck surgery at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

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Patients suffering prolonged loss of smell may be prescribed nasal steroids or rinses aimed at reducing localized inflammation but, if all else fails, nasal physical therapy has increasingly been recommended for recovering Covid-19 patients. 

During therapy sessions, patients smell different stimuli, like essential oils, common herbs or plants with widely-recognised scents, for intervals of 20 seconds while engaging in active recall, parsing their brains for particularly strong memories of the individual smells. 

These sessions are conducted twice a day for between four and six months with a focus on active recall to retrain and restore the olfactory system. 

“It takes patience. The more you train, the better the outcome will be,” Locke said. “I recommend patients find a quiet place where they won’t be disturbed so they can give their full attention to the practice.”

The researchers caution, however, that smell faculties may not return to pre-covid levels in recovering patients and they encourage them to develop a new smell vocabulary throughout the process, to adapt to their lives post-infection. 

It remains to be seen exactly how long-lasting or perhaps permanent Covid-19-related loss of smell may be and whether treatment and mitigation methodologies will have to advance to meet a growing number of people with diminished sensory faculties.

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