Long before people began noticing that a loss or blunting of the sense of smell is one of the symptoms of COVID, a sizeable chunk of the population was already living with some degree of what’s known medically as loss of olfactory function.
According to studies, up to 50 per cent of people aged 65 to 80 have a diminished or total loss of their sense of smell on testing.
Yet many people who are so affected — from 91 to 83 per cent in one trial, depending on age — don’t realize it. This can pose a number of risks, from failing to detect a hazardous event such as a cooking fire or gas leak, to overeating in an attempt to find food that satisfies, since smell plays such a big role in taste.
So what kinds of changes in the body result in loss of olfactory function? And are there treatments that can help restore it?
A big thank-you to the interviewees who so generously shared their time and expertise:
- Jenna Copeland, an occupational therapist who is now with Innovative Occupational Therapy Services in Guelph, Ont.
- Dr. Beverly Cowart, PhD, a member of the Monell Chemical Senses Center and an adjunct assistant professor of otolaryngology at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, PA.
- Daniela Fierini, a registered dietitian and clinical nutrition practice leader at the University Health Network’s Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto, and one of the co-authors of Goes Down Easy: Recipes to Help You Cope With the Challenge of Eating During Cancer Treatment (by Elise Mecklinger, Princess Margaret Hospital Foundation, 2006).
- Elisa Missio Marocchi, a treasured long-time friend.
- Dr. Alex Osborn, an otolaryngologist head and neck surgeon at The Voice Clinic in Toronto.
- Dr. Leigh Sowerby, an assistant professor of rhinology and anterior base skull surgery, Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery at Western University’s Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry; associate scientist at the Lawson Research Institute, and a surgeon at St. Joseph’s Health Care London in London, Ont.