Twenty-year-old college student Natalia Cano contracted COVID-19 earlier this year, and it completely changed her life. In a series of videos posted on her TikTok account, Cano shared her story of living with a post-COVID symptom known as parosmia. She explained that “there’s no cure, there’s just hoping.” But what is this symptom and why has it lasted for so long?
According to the University of Utah Health, parosmia “is a condition where otherwise normal smells now smell unpleasant or even disgusting.” An example would be the smell of coffee or fruit suddenly smelling like rotten meat or eggs.
In Cano’s case, her parosmia has distorted her sense of smell so that most of her favorite foods and beverages smell like sewage, rotting garbage, or a rancid scent that she still can’t describe.
Parosmia is becoming an increasingly common COVID symptom, but it can also be caused by a number of different medical conditions.
Cano posted her now-viral video in response to a post from Ashley Zibetti, who also suffers from parosmia. In her video, Zibetti shared that she has to use a nose clip in order to tolerate the taste of her food.
When Cano saw the clip, she realized she wasn’t alone. The film student documented her emotional breakdown upon discovering her distorted sense of smell was known as parosmia, and there are others who have the same condition.
“I didn’t know this had a name,” she said through tears. “I don’t think anyone understands how much this affects your daily life. It’s not that foods taste rotten—it is that, but it’s garbage, it’s sewage… Imagine the worst smell that you have ever smelled in your life and it’s that, but everything.”
When Cano first got sick with COVID, she briefly lost her sense of smell. The parosmia didn’t emerge until months later, and she went to doctor after doctor in an attempt to figure out what was wrong. She claimed she had invasive procedures like colonoscopies and a gastric emptying test because doctors thought it was possibly an intestinal issue.
It wasn’t until she saw an ear, nose, and throat specialist that the symptom was connected to COVID. But she didn’t hear the term parosmia until she saw Zibetti’s TikTok video.
Cano said she’s tried a few suggestions from her new 100,000 followers, but so far none of them have worked. She did learn, though, that the smell of clove hasn’t changed. This allows her to still enjoy a few things that feature the spice, like Dr. Pepper, chai, and BBQ sauce.
Scientists are still trying to figure out what causes parosmia and how long it will last. According to the latest research, it could last anywhere between a few weeks to a few months.
“It is literally torture every single time I eat something, and I’m so terrified of food. I’ve never been a picky eater in my entire life,” Cano said. “I have zero food security because it’s not even that I can’t find anything that tastes good to me. It’s that the taste itself also changes on a month to month basis.”
Cano’s doctors have told her that she should recover within the year. But in the meantime, she’s going to visit a taste and smell specialist in Washington, DC to try a new treatment. And of course, she will be documenting the experience on TikTok.
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