Friday, April 2, 2021

Can Oranges Help You Get Your Sense of Smell Back After COVID?

A case of COVID-19 can affect the body in so many ways, causing damage to the lungs, heart, and other systems. But did you know it can also cause people to lose their sense of smell? This problem can last for weeks to months.

In terms of long-term health consequences, losing your sense of smell might sound minor. However, when you stop to think about it, this sense is vital.

Sense of Smell Serves Many Functions

Of course, smell is central to how we experience food and eating. Over 70% of taste is actually smell! This is obvious when you think about how food just doesn't taste good when you have a bad cold. 

But smell also serves many other functions in our lives. The sense of smell is a built-in “safety feature” for our bodies. It stops us from eating food that's gone bad, alerts us to the presence of smoke and fire, and also lets us know about toxic odors.

Smell helps us bond with others, too, and can have a lot of emotional content. For instance, think about the smell of your grandma’s house, or your partner’s shirt. In fact, losing one’s sense of smell, a condition known as anosmia, can even cause depression and anxiety.

A Weird Trend To Try to Bring Sense of Smell Back

Given all this, it's concerning to learn that over 80% of people who develop COVID-19 experience anosmia, at least at first. One study found that 15% hadn’t recovered 60 days later. Five percent were still in this situation after 6 months!

This condition can be really frustrating. It’s this frustration that has led to the rise of a viral trend on TikTok involving the burning and eating of our favorite fruit…oranges.

The trend seems to have started with a video about a Jamaican remedy for loss of sense of smell. The video features someone roasting a whole orange over an open flame. He rips off the blackened peel, then mixes the soft, warm insides with brown sugar. 

This is the snack you're supposed to try to bring your sense of smell back. I have to admit: I didn't try the remedy. However, I did consider what it must be like. Given all the volatile oils in orange peel, this process must release a lot of strong-smelling orange oils into the air. The orange on the inside has also got to be sweet and fragrant. 

Does it Work?

Being of a scientific frame of mind, I also found myself feeling skeptical. Sure, that roasted orange must smell great. But what does the sugar do? Why does the sugar have to be brown? Why not just smell some citrus essential oils? 

I’m not the only one. In articles I read about the practice, experts and scientists were pretty skeptical. They point out that there's virtually no proof that this would be effective.

Not Completely Off Base

Yet...some also said there could be a grain of truth to this idea. Why? 

Although burning oranges and mixing them with sugar is probably silly, smelling strong and fragrant aromas might not be a bad idea for people with anosmia. As it turns out, doctors do recommend a process called “smell training” to help people in this situation. 

In smell training, people with a lost or damaged sense of smell try smelling the same few strong aromas daily to “retrain” the nose and brain. Strong, pleasant odors like mint, rose, and yes, oranges or citrus are often recommended.

Lost your sense of smell? If toasting your oranges and eating them with sugar sounds good to you, it certainly won’t hurt. If you really want to work on this, though, you might want to try “smell training" for real. There are support groups online to help.

In the meantime, the delicious, unmistakable scent of oranges, grapefruit, tangerines and other citrus is always fresh, sweet, and enjoyable in any context. Yum. 

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