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This Lesser-Know Post-COVID Symptom Presents An Eerie World Of Tastes And Smells

This post is a part of YKA’s dedicated coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak and aims to present factual, reliable information. Read more.

My family and I got COVID in the last week of April when I lost my taste and smell completely. Now, this is something that has become common to our ears and eyes since 2020, but what is not common is losing your taste and smell, partially regaining them and losing them once again.

I wish it were just losing them like it was during COVID, but I started experiencing something bizarre this time. My taste and smell slowly got altered or rather distorted. Yes, welcome to my world where the scent of perfumes does not appease me but makes me want to barf.

I have always felt comforted when given labels to what my body is going through, perhaps because we humans enjoy control — uncertainty is the worst enemy.

bad smell
Representative Image. (Source: flickr)

In life before COVID, I could never fathom such things were possible and I did not even pay much attention to my senses. Indeed, we do not realise the value of something until it’s gone.

To explain my condition a little more, although I still struggle to find words that fit what I am experiencing, the internet and social media have been generous. My food does not smell or taste the way it should. This may easily qualify as TMI (too much information), but my poop smells different. All poop, by default, smells bad, but my poop smells a different bad.

When my condition was setting in, we were at my grandparents’, so my mind came up with convincing explanations for what started happening to me. It started with an odd taste in some of the dishes I was eating. While I thought it was perhaps the ingredients of the food, little did I realise that it was my tongue and nose.

When the smell of my hand wash changed, and Lifebuoy certainly became unbearable, I thought it was because of the henna on my hands. And as I started smelling a foul smell in the washroom, I assumed it was the drain and thought, “Voila! I am regaining my smell,” because all those days at my grandparent’s, I could not smell any smell in the drain that others could.

But realisation only kicked in as my taste and smell started to worsen after I came back home. I recognised the unfriendly smell in my kitchen that had followed me from my grandparent’s house and felt perplexed because all this while I had been fooling myself.

cooking food in kitchen
Representative Image.

Two days after we returned home, most of the dishes that I could consume despite the unfamiliar taste and smell became unbearable, and I could not stomach any food.

I was not taken very seriously by many people around me because this is such a weird thing that even I felt embarrassed to explain or describe it to others. We visited our doctor, and I experimented with some medication but of no luck or help because these unfamiliar smells and tastes continued to flourish.

Due to a habit of frantically googling things, I read the word Parosmia in some articles and later on Instagram. Although I do not want to self-diagnose, what I was experiencing felt very similar to Parosmia that surprisingly many people are experiencing post-COVID, unfortunately.

It struck me that it was a less talked about term and post-COVID symptom. We hear about post-COVID weakness, headaches, body pains, and other problems, but I bet most of us are unaware of what Parosmia is, perhaps because nobody knows much about it.

I sometimes still wonder whether what I am experiencing is Parosmia because it has not been clinically told to me. But there is nothing else that explains my condition and symptoms better than Parosmia.

I tend to associate smells with places, people, and memories. Having those smells taken away from me took a hard toll on me. And being the foodie I am, I loved turning to my comfort food when I felt down. Now, my day involves exploring what I can eat and what I cannot.

As we know, food, especially our Indian cuisine, has strong aromas. All food smells the same to me now except for a few dishes that are forsaken. The smell can sometimes be nauseating and unsettles the whole system.

Although I am trying to eat all three meals and of good amounts, every meal is a mountain to climb. I have to force myself to eat and often ignore the smell and taste. I have tried holding my nose while eating or gulping my food without chewing, but they are not very comfortable and healthy practices.

Representative Image. (Source: flickr)

I am unsure about what awaits me ahead, but all I can do is be hopeful that my smell and taste will return to normal one day. I have had my share of the “what-ifs?” and “why me?” thought spirals. But social media has been very soothing because reading about how other people are dealing with this makes me feel less lonely and motivates me to overcome my circumstances.

I do not know one individual personally who is having these symptoms post-COVID, but I am certain that there are fellow comrades experiencing this in different corners of the world.

I did not know that I would write about what I am experiencing, especially like this, but after reading some articles for What It’s Like to Live With series of The Swaddle, it felt just the right time to speak up and let more people know about this.

About doctors not giving a diagnosis and prognosis, I’d just say that even they are still learning because the novel coronavirus is undoubtedly novel and affects each individual differently.

There are still grumpy days and vulnerable moments, but I hope that hope lies ahead as they say that it is like a resting station on the way to the destination — destination being fully recovered taste and smell.

I read that Parosmia post-COVID occurs as a result of our brains relearning how to smell and taste. Although on most occasions I feel like not being able to taste and smell at all was easier to deal with, especially because I was confident it would come back. The uncertainty now looms fear of having to live in this distorted world of taste and smell for longer than I am expecting to.

I am not even sure what I am expecting because I just desperately wish to wake up tomorrow morning and relish a plate full of scrumptious breakfast without fearing each bite I take and tell the difference between my perfumes, creams and shampoo just by sniffing them.

While still unsure of what this is called, I would like to believe that it is Parosmia and urge people to read more about this because many people around us are perhaps not tasting and smelling things the way we are supposed to taste and smell them.

I hope this story reaches out to people, especially those experiencing anything as strange as this because you are not alone. I hope the future looks brighter for us and there is more research and empirical information to explain such a disabling situation.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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