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How One Patient Recovered Their Taste and Smell After COVID

Nancy Damato went from being a perfume collector to being a part of a clinical trial to regain her sense of taste and smell.

Nancy Damato is known for her love of scents. She has essential oil diffusers throughout her home and she collects perfumes. When she contracted COVID-19 in February 2021, she lost her taste and smell, a phenomenon known as anosmia.

At first, Nancy considered herself lucky to have a mild case of COVID. She continued safely working from home and could stick with her daily yoga routine. The only significant impact COVID had on her was taste and smell loss, which she was told would come back in two weeks. Those two weeks went by though, and when she did not regain her senses, she started researching.

“Right away, I knew my senses were not coming back on their own,” Nancy recalls. “I didn’t want to wait and see what could happen. This empowered me to take action and get as much information as possible. I contacted my doctor to see what supplements I could take, and I went to acupuncture.”

Dr. Glen D Souza and Dr. David Rosen greeting their patient, Nancy, for her monthly PRP procedure to help regain her taste and smell senses.

Otolaryngologists Dr. Glen D’Souza (left) and Dr. David Rosen (right) greet Nancy for her PRP treatment.

Finding a Road to Recovery

Nancy soon realized that anosmia goes deeper than just impacting your ability to taste your meals. She says that she maintained hope by building a path to recovery but was also dealing with depression. “You almost feel like you’re missing a part of yourself,” says Nancy. When you’re injured, you have a roadmap for recovery, and that’s something that I had to make on my own. The loss of taste and smell impacts every aspect of your life in ways you wouldn’t have thought. Everything you eat is a project from the time you wake up in the morning until you go to bed. You focus on tasting each food individually to try and remember that taste to help you recover.”

Nancy came across our interview with otolaryngologist Dr. David Rosen on his work helping patients recover from anosmia through a clinical trial. She found it at the right time: he was looking for new patients and was only accepting 30 for the trial. She was number 28.

In October 2021, Nancy began her monthly trial appointments. During these appointments, Dr. Rosen and his team walk her through smell training exercises and combine platelets from her blood with a topical treatment which is placed up her nose near the olfactory nerve. This treatment, platelet-rich plasma (PRP), is commonly used for other issues, such as healing injured muscles, hair regrowth, and reducing the appearance of scars. This treatment is much less invasive than previously used PRP injections. She has undergone five procedures and is seeing promising results. “Recovery has been a rollercoaster, and every day is completely different,” Nancy explains. “I’m getting glimmers of tastes and smells, but they can be fleeting. The biggest difference is the ability to smell something in the air and not something that I’m actively putting my nose to.”

Dr. Rosen and Dr. D Souza using an endoscopy to assist with placing PRP on Nancy's olfactory nerve to stimulate cell regrowth.

Dr. Rosen (left) and Dr. D’Souza (right) using an endoscope to assist with placing PRP on Nancy’s olfactory nerve to stimulate cell regrowth.

Staying Positive While Healing

She also found an online, international community, the AbScent Network, consisting of others suffering from anosmia. She started attending webinars and talking to others and realized she was not alone. The emotional impact was something they all shared: food isn’t just sustenance to get us through each day. It is such a big part of our memories. “What I miss most is enjoying, really enjoying and savoring meals,” Nancy says. “The smell of Italian food cooking, baked foods, it’s all such a big part of your memory and family. I’m missing that part of my life. I try not to let these memories go dormant.”

When asked what Nancy would suggest for others going through anosmia, she follows Dr. Rosen’s advice on smell training. “Incorporate it as a habit into your day. Have essential oils to smell next to your toothbrush or vitamins. Look to your support group and make sure those around you are supportive and positive. Keep a journal of the foods you are starting to taste and those that aren’t exactly what you remember. Physically go places where you have a memory of a smell there. For example, putting gasoline in your car. When I first started to smell that, it wasn’t exactly what I remembered gasoline to smell like, but I knew it was gasoline.”

Anosmia (loss of taste and smell) patient, Nancy, going through smell exercises during her monthly PRP procedure.

During each treatment, scratch and sniff smell exercises are used to see how much stronger Nancy’s senses are becoming.

Nancy’s ultimate message about her journey is simple, “people shouldn’t give up hope. It is like any other healing process in your body. Healing is an everyday process, and it just takes time, especially when regrowing cells.”

 

[Editor’s Note: To see if you’re eligible to enroll in the clinical trial, fill out this form.]

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