A Cup of Coffee – When I eat, the food tastes like garbage smells

Welcome back! Last week, we talked about my husband wanting to buy a kilt. If you missed that blog and would like to catch up, click HERE.

This week, we are going to talk about a very strange event that most of you probably haven’t experienced, but for those who have, it’s unforgettable.

A couple of years ago, I had shoulder surgery, and for months after surgery, food that I would have normally loved to eat smelled like it was rotten. It was horrible. My doctors insisted that I must have COVID, but I continued to test negative over all of those months.

While I know that this phenomenon has come into the public’s eye due to so many having issues post COVID, what I didn’t know is that this is something that can happen with any virus or surgery, and that made me curious as to how and why it happens.

Does it have a name?

So let’s start out with naming it because it actually does have a medical name. It’s called Parosmia (sounds like pr·aaz·mee·uh).

What is it like to experience Parosmia?

People who experience Parosmia can detect an odor that’s present, but the scent smells “wrong” to them. For example, the pleasant odor of freshly baked cookies might smell rotten instead of sweet.

People can feel physically ill when their brain detects strong, unpleasant scents, so this disorder can lead to bouts of nausea when trying to eat foul-smelling food.

What are some things that can cause this to occur?

Most recently, COVID patients experience this during their recovery period. Some long haulers continue to have distortions of smell and taste for months. COVID isn’t, however, the only reason this can occur.

According to Healthline, Parosmia usually occurs after your scent-detecting neurons, also called your olfactory senses, have been damaged due to a virus (any virus, not just COVID) or other events like brain trauma, seizures, or head injury.

The neurons line your nose and tell your brain how to interpret the chemical information that makes up a smell. Damage to these neurons changes the way smells reach your brain, thus resulting in the foul smells and tastes.

Bacterial infections can also be a cause of Parosmia. Upper respiratory infections are often a culprit for experiencing this disorder.

Smoking, chemical exposures, radiations and chemotherapy, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Lewy Body Dementia, Huntington’s Disease, tumors on the olfactory bulbs, in the frontal cortex, and in your sinus cavities can cause changes to your sense of smell, although it’s rare for a tumor to cause parosmia.

What kind of a doctor should I see to get a diagnosis?

As always, this blog is no substitution for sound medical advice. For a firm diagnosis, you would need to see an Ear, Nose, and Throat specialist (ENT). They may give you several things to smell and see if you can correctly identify them. A common test for parosmia involves a small booklet of “scratch and sniff” beads that you respond to under a doctor’s observation.

After taking a full history of your medical background, the ENT can then decide if further testing is important. This could include a sinus CT, a biopsy of the sinus region, or an MRI.

Once diagnosed, then what?

Your ENT would need to decide what steps are necessary to treat your symptoms. Sometimes, there can be no treatment, but if you were to find relief, it would be removing the cause if, for example, it was due to smoking or something chemical in your work environment. If you are receiving medication for cancer, then your smell may return to normal after your treatment ends.

Sometimes surgery is necessary to resolve parosmia. Nasal obstructions, such as tumors or polyps, may need to be removed.

Some ENTs suggest vitamin supplements, although to date there need to be more case studies and research to support their use and effectiveness.

Smell training

Another form of treatment that is sometimes used for people who have problems recovering from Parosmia is “smell training”, also known as olfactory training therapy. This type of therapy involves sniffing several types of smells for up to 15 seconds at a time each smell. This is done twice daily for several months.

The good news

Parosmia is not generally a permanent condition. While it may be overwhelming when you are experiencing it, try to remember that this too shall pass. Recovery times vary according to the underlying cause of your parosmia symptoms and the treatment that you use. If your parosmia is caused by a virus or infection, your sense of smell may return to normal without treatment. Mine did. I only occasionally get a whiff of something that seems “off”, but in general, I’m back to being who I was before the shoulder surgery.

That’s all I have for you this week, dear reader. I’ll see you back here next Wednesday to share another cup of coffee. Until then, be good to yourself and each other.

Mind, Body, Spirit…Osteopathic Doctors treat the whole person, not just the ailment. Is your PCP a DO? Would you like to learn more about Osteopathic Physicians? Click HERE!

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