People who have lost their sense of smell after being ill with COVID-19 should be introduced to smell training instead of steroids, researchers have said.
The process involves introducing a series of different odours over several months which will help to retrain the brain so it can once again start recognising different smells.
The benefit of this approach is cheap and simple to do and unlike medication does not have any side effects.
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Loss of smell and taste are one of the main symptoms of coronavirus and in most cases the senses return after the person has recovered, but one in five people have reported they are still struggling eight weeks after recovery.
At the moment doctors are prescribing corticosteroids to ease the symptom, but potential side effects of the steroids include fluid retention, high blood pressure, and problems with mood swings and behaviour.
Professor Carl Philpott, part of the international team of researchers who is recommending smell training, does not think this is the right approach.
Speaking to the BBC, Professor Philpott, from the University of East Anglia’s Norwich Medical School, said: “Because they have well-known potential adverse side effects, our advice is that they should not be prescribed as a treatment for post-viral smell loss.
“Luckily most people who experience smell loss as a result of COVID-19 will regain their sense of smell spontaneously.”
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The team has come together to publish a study paper on the subject, which has been published in the journal International Forum of Allergy & Rhinology.
According to research, Professor Philpott said that 90 per cent of people regain their sense of smell six months after recovering from COVID-19.
But for the few who remain unable to identify different smells, then the smell training would be the best approach.
He added: “It aims to help recovery based on neuroplasticity – the brain’s ability to reorganise itself to compensate for a change or injury.”