This Remedy Helps You Regain Taste And Smell After COVID-19

All you need is an orange, an open flame, and some brown sugar. This Remedy Helps You Regain Taste And Smell After COVID-19

Loss of smell and taste has emerged as a common symptom of COVID-19. It could be due to plain old congestion from the infection; it could also be a result of the virus causing a unique inflammatory reaction inside the nose that then leads to a loss of the olfactory (aka smell) neurons, according to Vanderbilt Unversity Medical Center.

Either way, no one’s really sure what helps you regain your sense of smell and taste after COVID-19. However, some TikTokkers think they may have found a solution: In a new trend on the social media platform, people who’ve recently been diagnosed with COVID-19 are trying a home remedy that requires you to char an orange over an open flame and eat the flesh with brown sugar to restore your sense of smell and taste. And, apparently, the remedy works.

“For reference, I was probably at 10% taste and this brought it to ~80%,” TikTok user @madisontaylorn wrote alongside a video of her trying the remedy.

In another TikTok, user @tiktoksofiesworld said she was able to taste Dijon mustard after eating the burnt orange with brown sugar.

Not everyone has seen the same results, though. TikTok user @anniedeschamps2 shared her experience with the home remedy in a series of videos on the platform. “I don’t think it worked,” she says in the final clip as she eats a chocolate chip cookie.

Now, before getting into whether this home remedy is actually legit, let’s get another question out of the way first: Is it even safe to prepare and eat a charred orange like this?

Ginger Hultin, M.S., R.D.N., owner of Champagne Nutrition, says eating a blackened orange isn’t harmful to the body, since charred fruit doesn’t appear to produce any of the harmful carcinogenic substances formed in charred meat. Plus, the remedy calls for eating only the flesh of the fruit, not the blackened skin. (Related: The Health Benefits of Oranges Go Well Beyond Vitamin C)

That said, there are some safety concerns to note when preparing the burnt orange. “What I’m most worried about is the way people are charring their orange over an open flame in their kitchen,” says Hutlin. “It would be easy for neighboring items to catch fire.”

As for whether this home remedy can actually help you regain your sense of smell and taste after a COVID-19 infection, experts aren’t really convinced. Bozena Wrobel, M.D., an otolaryngologist (a physician trained in head and neck disorders) at Keck Medicine of USC, believes it is unlikely that the remedy reverses COVID-19–induced taste loss. “Taste loss related to COVID-19 is due to the loss of olfaction, which is your sense of smell,” she explains. “Your taste buds are not affected by COVID-19.” Eating a sweetened orange might be hugely stimulating for your taste buds, she explains, but it doesn’t “reignite” olfaction.

So, what explains the success among TikTokkers? “Because COVID-19 smell loss eventually gets better in the majority of people, some [TikTokkers] perhaps were already recovering from their smell loss,” says Dr. Wrobel. Indeed, TikTok user @tiktoksofiesworld wrote in a disclaimer on Instagram that “it could very well be a coincidence” that she was able to taste Dijon mustard after trying the burnt orange home remedy, as she made the video around two weeks after her COVID-19 symptoms started.

Plus, there’s always the possibility of a placebo effect among those who believe the remedy worked for them, adds Dr. Wrobel.

But all hope is not lost for those struggling to regain their sense of smell and taste after COVID-19. Your olfactory nerve, which has fibers in your brain and nose that contribute to your ability to smell (and, in turn, taste), can regenerate on its own, explains Dr. Wrobel. Not only that, but she says your brain can also be trained to restore the nerve connections responsible for interpreting smells. If you choose to see an otolaryngologist, she says, they will guide you through olfactory training to help you restore these senses.

As part of olfactory training, Dr. Wrobel recommends smelling four different essential oils for 20 to 40 seconds each, twice a day. Specifically, she suggests using rose, clove, lemon, and eucalyptus oils for this technique.

“When you smell each oil, think intensely about the smell and recall the memories associated with it,” she says. Air particles carry the scent to fibers in your nose, which then send signals through the olfactory pathway to the brain, she explains.

Thinking intensely about the scent wakes up the part of the brain that holds olfactory memories, instead of letting it go into “sleep mode” from lack of use, says Dr. Wrobel.

“We currently don’t have big studies on [this olfactory training technique’s effectiveness for] COVID-19 patients,” admits Dr. Wrobel. “But since the mechanism is, to some degree, similar to the smell loss from other viral infections, we are applying that technique to COVID-19 patients.”

Doctors at UAB said the best thing to do if you’ve lost your smell is something called “smell training.”

Smell training starts with getting four types of essential oils: rose, eucalyptus, clove, and lemon.

You need to smell each scent for 10 seconds twice a day.

Dr. Do-Yeon Cho with UAB’s Department of Otolaryngology said you probably won’t see improvement overnight, but over a few to several weeks, most people see improvement.

You Don’t Even Have To Have The Virus To Do Smell Training.

“I try to smell every day to see whether I have the viral infection or not,” said Dr. Cho. “It’s kind of sentinel testing by myself to see whether I still can smell in the morning. So, I can tell whether I have it. Because a lot of patients are asymptomatic usually smell loss is one of the symptoms they complain, so that’s something you can test yourself every day.”

And another really important reminder from Dr. Cho: with winter coming, make sure your smoke detectors are working, because if you have lost your smell, that could be your only way to know of smoke.

And check the expiration on food before eating, since you can’t smell if it’s gone bad.

Alternative To Essential Oils

Forget the oils, and instead smell every single spice in your kitchen cabinets twice a day.

As it turns out, my parents have a lot of spices. And so a hallowed ritual was born. I pull a chair up to the kitchen island that houses my parents’ spice drawer and settle in. Each time I open the drawer, I take a few seconds to review all of the spices, which are arranged alphabetically, from an adobo blend to za’atar. Then I dig in, taking my time to get through all 40 jars and packets spread across three interior racks.

The sniffs per spice ranges from one to several. Some are more potent, like cumin and pepper. Some are less so, or don’t have much of a smell at all, like marjoram or ground celery seed. (I have also learned that just about any spice can lose its smell if it is a few years past the expiration date—I’m sure you’re great, marjoram.) I leave the best few—in my opinion, the warmer varieties like cardamom, clove, and nutmeg—for last, like a fine dessert.

Beyond the possible medical benefits, my regular spice-sniffing exercise has turned into something more. For those 15 minutes, I am not working; I am not reading the news on my phone; I am not doomscrolling through Twitter; I am not being “productive”.

The process has proved more enjoyable and rewarding than any meditation I have ever tried. Sometimes when I close my eyes while sniffing, I’m transported to India or Lebanon or Mexico, on a sensory tour of multiple cultures and culinary ideas that has taken my brain far beyond the confines of quarantine in New Jersey.

And it really does work. I feel especially nice and alert to smells right after the exercise, although the effects can fade after a half-hour or so. Smell has a direct line to a part of our brain that is responsible for emotion and memory, a power that not even taste has. That explains why I’ve also had many flashbacks while sniffing the spices.

When I smell the adobo, I’m sent back to college, a time when that was the only spice mix I used in my cooking. When I smell cinnamon, I sometimes remember the time I tried and failed to successfully incorporate it into a Middle Eastern chicken marinade when I was trying to impress a girlfriend.

As I have progressed with my sniffing over the past few weeks, I have gotten better at recognizing the specific smells, and I have also begun to let my mind wander to think of recipes and ways to use them. Sometimes my parents will see me sniffing and join in, and it becomes an impromptu family gathering. This is as weird and wholesome as it sounds.

Whether my full “nose” will return remains an open question. But this experience has already made me feel better about transitioning from my quarantine world to the real one later this year, God willing. For so many of us who have moved back into our parents’ houses right now, it’s been easy to feel like we’re regressing to our teen or childhood years.

We’re surrounded by the tangible memory of it all, in the form of trophies and family photos and yearbooks and old sweatshirts. It’s hard to keep up your independence and identity.

My parents’ spice cabinet has been, ironically, an escape from all that. I’m not sure where my mom and dad acquired all these scents, but I cannot say I remember eating them in my childhood or in my months here before I got COVID.

The little journeys I’ve taken have instead reminded me of life beyond home, the people I’ve met and the tastes I’ve acquired and the experiences I’ve had. My new spice bottle friends helped me regain the part of myself that I’ve developed out in the world through my 20s—if not, just yet, my sense of smell. For now, I will savor the sniffing.

Smell Training

Kelly said that smell training could help in recovery. She began doing the training on her own and has regained enough to experience what she describes as a “good quality of life.” The training requires actively sniffing a panel of scents twice a day for at least four months, spending at least 20 seconds per scent and being mindful about the experience.

“It’s safe, anyone can do it and it’s well researched and recommended by doctors,” Kelly said. “It isn’t a cure, but it can be a way of hastening and amplifying the natural recovery process.”

“Chocolate smelled like red meat. My taco soup could have been water, for all I knew.”

– Amanda Frankeny, a registered dietitian nutritionist

The AbScent website offers tips on making your own smell training kit, or you can purchase one from them directly, with all proceeds going to the organization.

When An RDN Can’t Taste Anything

Amanda Frankeny is a registered dietitian nutritionist who lives in Boulder, Colorado. Like Nilan, she contracted COVID-19 in March, when little was known about some of her symptoms.

“During the second week I was sick, things started tasting and smelling funny,” Frankeny said. “Chocolate smelled like red meat. My taco soup could have been water, for all I knew. For me, the disease was slow and steady. Each day brought something new, as my other symptoms worsened. Losing my sense of taste was one of the worst parts.”

She used her professional knowledge to make sure she stayed nourished. “I was intentional about getting enough to eat at every meal,” Frankeny said. “I ate from every food group, and I tried to eat regular, colorful plates of food even when the blandness took over.”

Other tips from Frankeny include remembering to drink water regularly. “A dry mouth can affect your ability to taste,” she said.

“Fluids help dissolve taste components, allowing them to reach the taste buds. Also, chew slowly to release flavors and increase saliva production.”

While it’s tempting to want to treat yourself when you’re sick, Frankeny warned against highly processed foods like chips, fast foods and sugary treats. “There’s no point in wasting a pint of delicious ice cream if you can’t taste it. Instead, eat things that make you feel a little better. Try a hot drink or soup, mostly because higher-temperature foods will feel nice.”

More suggestions appear on the National Institutes of Health’s website section about taste disorders, including using aromatic herbs and hot spices to add more flavor, avoiding combination dishes like casseroles that can hide individual flavors and dilute taste and, if your diet permits, topping food with small amounts of cheese, bacon bits, butter, olive oil or toasted nuts.

Tasting And Smelling Again: ‘Glorious, Glorious’

For Jane Nilan, other COVID-19 symptoms went away within weeks, but smell and taste didn’t return for three months. “After about two months, I noticed those senses creeping back in,” she said. “I began to go to extremes to see how much I could taste, so my diet was full of hot curries, Mexican food and lots of spices. I was so afraid it would go away again, so I pushed myself right to the edge.”

Nilan said that while a return to health has been a blessing, being able to enjoy her favorite foods is another one. “I had no idea how important those senses were to me,” she said. “I still open jars of spices before I use them, stick my nose in and say, ‘glorious, glorious.’”

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