A few months ago, something strange happened to me — things started to smell wrong. Different. I’d caught a waft of spring onions sprouting in a jar of water on my kitchen windowsill and suddenly a yucky, rancid scent was haunting me. What on earth was going on? Something called parosmia, apparently.
I was whacked with COVID over Christmas, right before I was meant to get my first booster shot. I lost my sense of taste and smell, right at the most delicious time of year, but found it slowly came back as I recovered from the virus.
But then a couple of months later I started to smell things that weren’t present.
At first, I thought my housemates were burning incense because it was all I could smell. The heady and smoky scent of Nag Champa Super Hit (very specifically) was haunting my nostrils to the point that I felt physically ill. Nobody in the house was burning it, or any incense at all. I only realised something wasn’t right when I went for a walk and the smell followed me.
Apparently, that was the first of my new sniffy issues. Phantosmia — or olfactory hallucinations — is the presence of a smell that isn’t actually there.
A quick google of my symptoms (which I know is dangerous business at the best of times) told me that people tend to smell things like cigarette smoke, rotten scents or chemicals out of nowhere.
Just as quick as it came, it was gone and replaced by something just as fucked — a distorted sense of smell.
Onions (among other things) suddenly repulsed me and still do months later. I can’t put my finger on what it smells like but it’s almost a rotten, garbage-y vibe. A pungent stench. A mighty pong.
I booked in with my doctor to chat about what on Earth was going on with my brain and its apparent decision to make everything smell like hot ass.
I explained how the awful stench has now spread to a few other triggers. Popcorn faintly smells weird, same with eggs. I can’t determine differences in red wines or coffee blends anymore. Eucalyptus is faint and not right. Petrol smells bad to me now. Christ, even my own sweat makes me gag sometimes.
Onions are still the main trigger, though. Everything from side salads at the pub to frozen dumplings has been tainted by the manky aroma. Whenever my workmates heat up a lunch with onion in it I nearly have to leave the office. My housemates apologise every time they cut up spring onions in the kitchen.
There’s not a lot of research out there about parosmia as a post-viral phenomenon following a COVID infection. But recent studies from a group of medical science experts are showing parosmia is an emerging pattern that’s likely affecting around 10% of COVID patients.
The triggers reported in the study are much the same. Onions, coffee, all the things I’ve been struggling with.
I hate it, and as someone who has a deep love for food (cooking, eating and enjoying) it’s absolutely fucking with my mental health.
My doctor was surprised by the strange turn my olfactory processes had taken. She sent me on my way with a script for a steroidal nasal spray to deal with any leftover inflammation from COVID and a promise she’d do some reading about it.
considering a visit to an ENT doctor for my persistent parosmia and this has sent me pic.twitter.com/iEXnnMphvc— corgi (@courtwhip) August 4, 2022
After a couple of weeks of using (also disgusting) nasal spray and nothing changed. I went back to the doctors’, where they suggested a referral to an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist if the parosmia hadn’t resolved itself by the six-month mark.
So now I wait until October to see if my brain and my schnoz figure their shit out. And if not, we go from there.