Odour exercises can help people whose sense of smell has been damaged by Covid, scientists find

Smell training has been recommended for the approximately 90,000 people whose sense of smell has been damaged by Covid-19.

Scientists at the University of East Anglia have shown that exercises such as attempting to tell the difference between a lemon and rose odour, done twice a day, can repair the olfactory damage done by the virus.

Although the Government waited weeks to acknowledge it, impairment to taste and smell have emerged as main symptoms of the virus. For many sufferers, that means previously pleasant smells such as chocolate become unpleasant and can smell more like rotting cabbage.

The UEA team has worked with 143 post-viral volunteers, encouraging them to try smelling at least four different odours twice daily for several months.

Their study, published in the journal Laryngoscope, found that the exercises improved the sense of smell by means of neuroplasticity – the brain’s ability to reorganise itself after injury.

Professor Carl Philpott, of UEA’s Norwich Medical School, said: "Some degree of smell loss is thought to affect up to one quarter of the general population. Smell loss is also a prominent symptom of Covid-19, and we know that the pandemic is leaving many people with long-term smell loss, or smell distortions such as parosmia – this may now be as many as 90,000 people in the UK.

"For people with parosmia, the smell of certain things – or sometimes everything – is different and often unpleasant. So for example, someone with parosmia could sniff at a cinnamon stick, but to them it would smell like something horrible, perhaps rotten food or worse.

"We found that the presence of parosmia and worse smell performance on testing of odour identification and discrimination was associated with clinically significant recovery in smell function for people experiencing post-viral smell disorders. This means that smell training can help the smell pathways to start to regenerate and recover.

"We also found that older people in particular were more likely to start to recover their sense of smell, and that the biggest improvements happened in those that had lost the most amount of smell function in the first place."

The research was carried out prior to Covid-19, but researchers said the findings could be helpful to people who have lost their sense of smell as a result of the virus.

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