Thousands of people worldwide are suffering from the lingering effects of Covid-19 – from severe fatigue and struggling to breathe to coping with a loss of smell and taste. Health24 spoke to a number of long haulers. This is Lauren’s story.

Lauren, 29

Contracted Covid-19 in July 2021.

When I got Covid, I first lost my sense of taste and then my smell. But it wasn’t just that – I also had back and chest pain, difficulty breathing, headache, and a sore throat. My husband, brother-in-law and father-in-law also contracted Covid at the time. Everything has returned to normal for them since their infection – I’m the only one who can't smell and taste.

The danger of not being able to smell

I’m the cook in our house. Last weekend, I burnt the fish oil again because I simply couldn’t smell it. My husband will often smell something burning and ask me if I’ve left something on the stove or if I’ve switched the plate off. Sometimes, I’d be in the kitchen, doing the dishes and cleaning up while the food is cooking, and then all of a sudden he would run in to ask what was burning. I'd have to notice fogging in the kitchen before I knew something is burning. 

Recently, we had a fire in our complex. I didn’t smell a thing. I looked outside and just thought, “Oh, it’s getting a bit dark.” Our windows were all open, and my husband thought I'd burnt something again. But when we went outside, we saw smoke coming into the house and only then did we realise there was a fire. But what is more concerning is that I’m nearly eight months pregnant, and at this stage of my pregnancy, I sleep a lot. 

Had I been asleep with our windows being wide open, that smoke would have come into the house and I would’ve slept right through it. It’s worrying.

(A study published last year showed just how important our sense of smell is in signalling danger.)

Cutting down on detergents

Since we’re expecting, we’re trying to disinfect the house as much as we can. We don’t really have mould in the house. Still, I use a mould buster just to clean where there’s scum and grime. But I can't smell how strong the chemical-based detergents are while I'm cleaning, and I worry whether this may affect my baby.  

One day, I was cleaning the glass screen in the shower with a detergent spray, which I left on the glass for a while. My husband then came down from his office upstairs and asked me what I was doing, because he could smell the chemicals from his office. He asked me whether I was feeling dizzy because of the detergents. But I couldn’t smell anything and my nose wasn’t burning, so there was nothing to alert me.

He then took over and continued cleaning. About an hour later, I started getting a headache and it clicked – the headache was because of chemical exposure.

Since then, I’ve had to watch what I use to clean the house, as well as the amount. For example, if I’m using Jik or bleach, I have to make sure I’m using a small amount and don’t over-expose myself. This is new to me because if you’re deep-cleaning a house, you tend to use a lot of everything. The headache I got that day worried me.

Concern over whether it could be hereditary  

When we found out we were expecting, one of the things we wondered about was if the neurological symptoms of long Covid could be hereditary.

We asked a number of doctors, but we always got the same answer. They didn’t know because they hadn't yet had any patients in a similar situation.

No one could give us an answer, so now we’re at a point where we just have to wait and see. I'm close to delivery so I will soon have my answer about whether or not it'll affect my baby.

I searched Facebook and Google for remedies to regain my sense of smell, and I found many people have tried smelling burnt oranges. I tried it and did "smell training". I tried sniffing eucalyptus oil and many other oils, but nothing worked. I don’t even spray on perfume anymore because I can’t smell it. I also love the smell of baby clothing, but when I washed some of her clothing and sniffed it, I couldn't smell anything.

There are, however, some moments when I'd suddenly get a whiff of something smelling like sewage that just stays for a second or two.

The ‘silver lining’

The only benefit will be when I have to deal with poopy nappies because it's the one thing you don’t want to smell! The first thing isn’t to check the nappy, but to smell it, so I told my husband that, unfortunately for him, I won’t know when she requires a diaper change. I'll have to take her to him, and he’ll have to tell me if there's a smell. But wouldn't it be funny if my sense of smell came back just after giving birth – the timing would be impeccable! 

*Many people suffer from the long-term effects of Covid-19, even many months later. If you are one of those people, and wish to share your experience, let us know, and your story can be told in our Living with long Covid series. You are not alone. E-mail your stories to [email protected]

READ | Living with long Covid: ‘Everything tastes bitter and smells like sweat or a fart’

READ | Living with long Covid: Insomnia, loss of taste, fatigue – ‘I need to trust that I will heal in time’

READ | Long Covid: More than 200 symptoms identified, many with a negative effect on work-life

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