February 2022

COVID-19: Sniffing Out Treatments for Loss of Smell

Post-acute COVID-19 recovery, many people continue to battle one very frustrating side effect: loss of smell. A variety of therapies are being recommended online to shorten how long this issue lingers. Here’s what we know so far.

In general, the available research is limited. You might hear about palmitoylethanolamide (PEA) – a chemical made from fat that’s found in foods like egg yolks and peanuts. A recent small study evaluated its use, in combination with luteolin, in people experiencing loss of smell for at least 90 days after COVID-19 recovery. While those taking this combination seemed to recover slightly faster, these same patients had more severe and persistent symptoms at the start of the study than those in the control group, so it’s not clear how much PEA and luteolin really helped. Even so, there were no reported adverse effects over the 1-month study duration.

Some patients might also ask about using spicy foods or strong scents, like chili pepper or ginger, to encourage or retrain the nose. When it comes to chili pepper, or capsicum, there aren’t any studies evaluating whether it helps. As long as it’s used in amounts typically found in foods, it’s okay to give it a try. But make sure patients understand that taking large amounts isn’t a good idea – even if they can’t smell or taste the chili pepper, it can still cause side effects, including indigestion and upset stomach. Similarly, ginger tea is commonly recommended online. While there’s no clinical evidence supporting this use, it’s likely safe for most people.

Tell patients that research is ongoing - there are several studies currently underway evaluating whether a variety of therapies might help, including vitamin Afish oil and certain essential oils – we’ll keep you updated as we learn more. While frustrating, explain that 95% of people who lose their sense of smell from COVID-19 appear to fully recover within one year, whether they receive treatment or not.

The information in this brief report is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions. Copyright © 2023 NatMed. Commercial distribution or reproduction prohibited. NatMed is the leading provider of high-quality, evidence-based, clinically-relevant information on natural medicine, dietary supplements, herbs, vitamins, minerals, functional foods, diets, complementary practices, CAM modalities, exercises and medical conditions. Monograph sections include interactions with herbs, drugs, foods and labs, contraindications, depletions, dosing, toxicology, adverse effects, pregnancy and lactation data, synonyms, safety and effectiveness.