As medical experts consider the loss of smell as an official symptom of coronavirus, adults who experience it are finding some comfort in knowing they are not suddenly losing a key sense — or their sanity.
In a joint statement from the presidents of the British Rhinological Society and ENT UK, doctors warned that adults who lose their sense of smell — especially those who are showing no other symptoms — could be unknown carriers and should self-isolate.
“In Germany, it is reported that more than 2 in 3 confirmed cases have anosmia. In South Korea, where testing has been more widespread, 30 percent of patients testing positive have had anosmia as their major presenting symptom in otherwise mild cases,” the statement said.
The World Health Organization has not yet classified the loss of smell or taste as a coronavirus symptom, but has not ruled it out.
For women who have experienced anosmia already, the news gives context to what they have been going through. Three shared what happened to them with The Lily:
Holly Ashinhurst lives just outside Seattle in Bothell, Wash. She can’t say for sure if she has covid-19, because she wasn’t able to get tested.
On March 11, she had body aches, and discovered an odd smell in her nose. “It smells like poo in here,” she said, to which her husband replied that he didn’t smell anything so putrid. By the weekend, she was sure of it: “Something was funky in my nose.”
By March 15, she was sick, but not sick enough to get a test in the Seattle area. Ashinhurst describes the accompanying sensation as “if she had been sniffing bleach or chlorine in the pool, then it dried.”
By Sunday morning, she made a casserole with sausage and tater tots but couldn’t smell or taste any of it, “which freaked me out,” she said.
She wasn’t congested, so there was no relief. “Usually if you have tea, or a shower, it clears it up for a minute,” she said, “but there was no congestion so it was different.”
Her sense of smell was “completely 100 percent gone.”
Wednesday marked day 10 of her illness and she said she’s regained her energy. She had felt a deep ache in her bones that she first thought was soreness from yoga.
With her doctor, who told her there’s nothing she can do but isolate herself, Ashinhurst mapped out a timeline for herself for the next seven to 10 days.
She’s felt no desire to eat anything, with one exception: peanut M&Ms.
“I had PMS even though I couldn't taste them, my body craved them.”
Valerie Joy Wilson tested positive for covid-19 on March 13, and was cleared to go out in public by the Los Angeles County Department of Health on Monday.
On March 7, the blogger and travel guide behind Trusted Travel Girl, felt odd. Her body just “short-circuited,” she said.
“There were waves coming over my whole body. Like when you’re overtired and can’t sit still.” She later had a low-grade fever.
The next day she was eating pasta, and noticed it was really salty. She thinks that’s when she lost her sense of smell and taste.
The following day, she barely ate. Midday she had a glass of orange juice and thought it was off. Later, she was reviewing a caramel waffle cookie for an assignment and couldn’t taste it.
“There’s no way this tastes like nothing,” she remembers thinking. “It tasted like cardboard.”
The next day, she went into the doctor’s office for a prescheduled appointment where they did some bloodwork. Her white blood cell count came back low, she said.
Wilson has a family history of heart problems, and has Lyme disease, so she was already immunocompromised. Eventually, Wilson had a slight sniffle. Because of her medical history and risk group, she was able to get tested and confirm that she had covid-19.
Her sense of taste was 100 percent gone, except for salt.
“I thought my tongue was broken. I poked at it with a fork to see if there was a nerve issue,” she said.
After about seven to 10 days, her sense of smell and taste have mostly returned, although it’s not totally back to normal, she said.
Still, she can’t smell nearly as well as she could before. “I have to have my nose right up to something,” she said.
Wilson has an expensive scented candle that might ordinarily make her feel better. But now, “It’s not even worth lighting.”
On Wednesday, Mary Hamilton was still very sick, and she said that it was getting worse for her and her husband, Vince Frisina, 42, with whom she is isolating at home. She has not been able to get a test.
For about a week and a half, Hamilton has experienced coughing, exhaustion, body aches, chest pain in her upper left quadrant, which “feels like heart pain,” difficulty breathing and shortness of breath.
Last Thursday, she took a marked turn for the worse. She spent hours on the New York state testing hotline.
When she went to the New York City Department of Health website, she read: “Unless you are hospitalized and a diagnosis will impact your care, you will not be tested.”
On Friday, she stopped being able to smell or taste things. In the first day or so, her head was congested, but she was able to breathe through her nose.
“My frontal sinuses were congested, but my nasal sinuses were not,” Hamilton said. “As the days go on, it gets stranger.”
“You really realize the protective nature of smell,” she said. “I sniff the milk to make sure it goes it hasn’t gone bad. I smell the humidifiers to make sure there’s no mildew.”
She also lost her appetite.
“You miss taste. I had to force myself to eat,” Hamilton said. “Forcing yourself to eat to without smell or taste is strange because if you could taste something good it would tempt you to eat. I realize I’m wasting spices, there’s just no point.”
“It all tastes like paste,” she said.
However, like Ashinhurst, she still found herself craving chocolate.
“I found myself binge eating chocolate. Psychologically, that’s what I want to do even though I know it’s a waste of calories,” she said. “In my pandemic prep I stockpiled chocolate.”
Her husband chews on ginger and can feel a burn, even though he can’t taste the ginger.
“I’ll stick my nose in our container of coffee hoping to smell something but I get nothing,” Hamilton said.
Otherwise, she’s just fighting exhaustion. On Tuesday, she talked on the phone for one hour, then had to nap for six.
“It’s not getting better. Breathing is getting worse. We’re normally healthy people. It’s tiring to not be able to breathe. I don’t know if it’s my lungs or my heart but it’s scary,” Hamilton said.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article referred to Holly Ashinhurst as a program director. She is a program coordinator. We regret the error.