Smell Retraining for Parosmia and the Loss of Smell from COVID-19 | Occupational Therapy

My family was watching the Cantonese news and they featured a segment from Dr. Sanjay Gupta on smell retraining for parosmia after COVID-19. He suggested that patients try retraining their sense of smell using scents such as essential oils.

A research article published earlier this year suggests essential oils with those scents may help a person recover the sense of smell by stopping inflammation and helping cells regenerate.

“Use your nose to smell these scents over and over again, and you could slowly, potentially, start to regain some of that smell over time,” Gupta said.[1]https://www.kktv.com/2022/09/27/retraining-your-nose-can-help-with-smell-loss-due-covid-experts-say/

I couldn’t find the exact article that was mentioned in this reference, but an open letter published in the Postgraduate medical journal stated that olfactory retraining therapy is rising due to COVID-19.[2]Saniasiaya, J., & Narayanan, P. (2022). Parosmia post COVID-19: an unpleasant manifestation of long COVID syndrome. Postgraduate medical journal, 98(e2), e96-e96. Another article I couldn’t access was titled, “Loss of Taste and Smell After COVID: Essential Oils, Brain Training and Osteopathic Techniques May Help”.

I was not able to find any high-quality research articles in the literature regarding this approach at the moment. I wonder if there are any studies going on that are looking into this.

As COVID-19 and its variants continue to mutate, it will be interesting to see how patients with persistent loss of their sense of smell do with simple interventions such as these. It is well within the domain of occupational therapy.

I have been using essential oils and similar therapies to help patients manage their pain non-pharmacologically in acute rehabilitation and acute care. It provides some relief and can help take the edge off for some patients. As the human body and the incredible sensory system is adaptable to our needs, I think this type of simple therapy can provide some promising results as a conservative approach before taking more extreme measures such as other therapies and medications.

As we have seen from our body’s memory of pain and trauma, it can be extremely adaptive to our personal experiences. Since we use our smell for our survival and to detect things like danger, I am hopeful that sensory retraining using essential oils and similar stimulants can be helpful for some people. Even if it does not end up being effective, sensory retraining using this intervention is simple, cost-effective, and low-risk.

What do you think? Have you had any personal experience with the loss of smell? Did it come back spontaneously? Did you try using essential oils or other stronger smells to retrain it?

References

References
1 https://www.kktv.com/2022/09/27/retraining-your-nose-can-help-with-smell-loss-due-covid-experts-say/
2 Saniasiaya, J., & Narayanan, P. (2022). Parosmia post COVID-19: an unpleasant manifestation of long COVID syndrome. Postgraduate medical journal, 98(e2), e96-e96.
Jeff is a licensed occupational therapist and lead content creator for OT Dude. He covers all things occupational therapy as well as other topics including healthcare, wellness, mental health, technology, science, sociology, and philosophy. Buy me a Coffee on Venmo.