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Published: 12 Feb, 2021

Worsened quality of life for people with impaired sense of smell

NEWS Losing your sense of smell, for instance as a result of COVID-19, can cause a number of problems such as weight loss, low-spiritedness and impacted social relations.

Text: Elin Andersson

People with COVID-19 commonly report that they have lost the ability to sense smells. Steven Nordin is professor of psychology at Umeå University and has studied what importance the sense of smell has for the quality of life.

“Our sense of smell helps us distinguish potentially dangerous subjects, such as poison and rotten food, from things that are beneficial to us, such as nutritious foods. The sense of smell also plays an important role in dietary intake through mechanisms regulating what, how and when to eat,” says Steven Nordin.

Beside an impaired or a complete loss of smell, problems with the sense of smell can also involve distorted smells, for instance that an orange smells of mud. You can also experience phantom smells, which is a strong smell, for instance of something burning, although nothing in the vicinity causes that smell. Distorted and phantom smells can arise due to infection with flu viruses and potentially also due to COVID-19, and all these dysfunctions can have huge negative effects on a person’s quality of life.

“My colleagues and I have gone through and compiled a large quantity of available research on the consequences of impaired or complete loss of smell,” says Steven Nordin and continues. “We can see that patients with a dysfunctional sense of smell are often troubled with a loss of appetite with negative effects on weight, difficulties cooking and worries of not being able to sense when food has gone off. Some also have problems relating to personal hygiene, feel worried about not sensing dangerous substances or events (such as gas leaks or fire) and experience negative effects on social and sexual relations. This can altogether lead to feelings of depression, a worsened general quality of life and even reduce your working capacity in certain professions.”

At Stockholm University, research is now being conducted to train people to regain their sense of smell, and the Department of Integrative Medical Biology at Umeå University conducts research on the sense of smell in people who have suffered from COVID-19 in particular. As of yet, research cannot provide any clear-cut answers to our ability to affect our ability to smell through training after having had COVID-19.

Learn more about Steven Nordins research:

Croy, I., Nordin, S., & Hummel, T. (2014). Olfactory Disorders and Quality of Life-An Updated Review. Chemical Senses, 39(3), 185–194. https://doi.org/10.1093/chemse/bjt072

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