Still can’t smell after COVID? How to ‘train’ your nose

The unmistakable whiff of smoke is often what first alerts someone to a nearby fire. But what if you can’t smell?


One of the most recognizable and baffling symptoms of COVID-19 is the loss of taste and smell, or anosmia. The odd side effect was met with mild amusement early in the pandemic, when videos of people comically biting into raw onions or drinking vinegar would go viral on social media. 

However, the five senses – sight, touch, smell, taste and hearing – are part of the body’s warning system, alerting the brain to potentially harmful or deadly situations in the environment. While being unable to smell freshly baked cookies may be a disappointment, being unable to smell a gas leak could have dire consequences.    

In one example, a toddler in Texas was recently hailed a hero after he alerted his parents to a fire in their home by waking his mother up and saying, “Mama, hot.” The couple had recently recovered from a bout with the virus and were unable to smell the smoke.  

The five senses – sight, touch, smell, taste and hearing – are part of the body’s warning system, alerting the brain to potentially harmful or deadly situations in the environment.
The five senses – sight, touch, smell, taste and hearing – are part of the body’s warning system, alerting the brain to potentially harmful or deadly situations in the environment. (Photo/Getty Images)

As of today, there’s no cure for anosmia; however, researchers are looking for ways to mitigate the long-term effects with a technique called “smell training.” 

Smell training 

While 90% of those who report losing their ability to smell regain the sense within two weeks of recovering, for the other 10%, the wait could be much longer. One possible way to help your body get back to normal is by engaging in olfactory training, or smell training.  

The SARS-CoV-2 virus binds with receptors in the nose that control smell, according to Drs. Sunthosh Sivam and Tran Locke, assistant professors of otolaryngology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.  

“In most cases, smell loss is temporary, but it can take months or even years to recover,” Locke said. “If you have any type of smell at all, it’s a sign that your olfactory nerve is still working.” 

With smell training, patients are instructed to take turns smelling four distinct essential oils or herbs, while focusing on core memories and experiences with those smells. The practice should be repeated twice a day for four to six months.  

“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.” 


Read more:

Read more:

What is anosmia and is it a symptom of COVID-19?

There are many causes of anosmia that EMTs and paramedics regularly encounter


Safety without smelling 

For those who are suffering without the ability to smell, it’s important to understand and be aware of the clues your body might miss due to the sensory deficit. As mentioned above, the inability to smell smoke from a nearby fire or a gas leak can have dangerous repercussions.   

Here are some ways you can protect yourself:  

  • Check the batteries in your smoke detector. 

  • Check dates on food products to ensure safety. 

  • Remind family, friends and colleagues that you are unable to smell so they can alert you to any issues. 

Have you experienced prolonged anosmia after contracting COVID-19? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.  

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