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Losing your sense of smell due to COVID-19 can leave you paranoid about hygiene. Here are some simple rules to follow.

INSIDER logo INSIDER 5/3/2021 Ksandoval@businessinsider.com (Kelsie Sandoval)
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  • Loss of taste and smell is a common COVID-19 symptom.
  • Even though loss of smell isn't the most serious COVID-19 symptom, it can still be traumatic.
  • One expert says to stick to your regular showering routine if you can't smell yourself and feel insecure about it.
  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

I lost my sense of smell due to COVID-19 last month, and I still feel insecure about my cleanliness. I constantly ask myself, "Do my armpits smell? Is it time to take another shower?"

I intensely scrub my body and layer on deodorant three times a day - and I still wonder if I reek.

In addition to being self-conscious about my hygiene, losing my sense of smell has impacted my well-being, too.

I'm anxious, not knowing if my sense of smell will ever return, and I feel like a ghost when I sniff a piece of toast and can't detect its delicious and warm scent.

I'm not the only person who has suffered from this strange side-effect of the virus.

Loss of smell is a common COVID-19 symptom

A systemic study, published in August 2020 by the Mayo Clinic, reviewed 24 studies, each with a sample size of over 8,000 people. It found that, on average, 41% of people with COVID-19 lose their sense of taste and smell.

Keyaira Kelly, 31, my health editor at Insider, lost her sense of smell pre-diagnosis in November 2020. Suddenly losing her sense of smell was paralyzing, Kelly said, because the feedback you get from your body, like smelling clean after a shower, disappears.

Kelly said said panicked, and washed three to four times daily to make sure she was clean.

"It was weird to hold your nose to your armpit and not smell if your deodorant has failed you or not," Kelly said.


Video: Loss of Taste and Smell Due to COVID-19 Could Be Prolonged or Permanent for Millions (Food & Wine)

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Dr. Syra Madad, an infectious disease epidemiologist at NYC Health + Hospitals, had COVID-19 in March 2020 and lost her sense of smell, too.

Madad said she wasn't too concerned about her own hygiene, but one time she couldn't smell her own daughter's dirty diaper.

"It was one of those things where you also feel bad because you want to make sure your child is also clean," Madad said. Fortunately, Madad's husband could smell the diaper and knew it was time for a change.

Losing your sense of smell can be traumatic

Anosmia is the total or partial loss of smell. Researchers believe that anosmia is a common COVID-19 symptom because the cells in our nose are rich in ACE2 receptors, which is what the coronavirus binds to to infect the body.

Madad said some people might think losing your sense of smell isn't a big deal, but she considers it a traumatic experience. She no longer had the simple pleasure of smelling food, which felt even more important when the pandemic stripped away other meaningful activities from her.

Madad also said she had a lot of anxiety because, at the time, she wasn't sure if her smell would return.

A study, published in January 2021, found that 15% of 487 people who lost their sense of smell reported feeling depressed. Seventy-six percent of pollees said their quality of life declined.

If you're worried about your hygiene, rely on your routine

Madad said if you can't smell and are worried about your hygiene, stick to your normal showering routine. But if you do a sweat-inducing activity, like gardening or exercising, take a shower afterward.

If you're diligently cleaning yourself, but still feel insecure, Madad said that you're not alone. Thankfully, the side-effect could be short-lived. Madad and Kelly's sense of smell returned after a month.

Although the loss of smell can be temporary, Madad said experts are still studying the long-term impacts of COVID-19, and losing your sense of smell could be more than a minor inconvenience.

In fact, some people with long COVID can't smell for months after infection, according to the Mayo Clinic.

"So don't put yourself in that situation," Madad said, recommending vaccination to avoid possible long-hauler effects from the virus.

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