A whiff of hope: smell test detects Covid-19 early warning

The whole world has felt ambushed by COVID-19, but it’s only recently that experts have realised that the sense of smell is one of the first things to be attacked – well before any other symptoms present themselves. Now, IFF (International Flavors & Fragrance) have helped develop a smell-test to take at home, donating scents from their living technology collection to aid the testing process…

Scientists now agree that the loss of smell represents an early warning sign of Coronavirus. Anosmia (smell loss) and dysgeusia (taste loss) are extremely common symptoms that may appear before any other symptoms to suspect a patient might be infected. Researchers developing the pioneering (and self-administered) test say that ‘early awareness of exposure may trigger testing sooner and improve the overall accuracy of testing for COVID-19.’ And as we now know – the earlier a possible infection can be detected and the patient made aware, the fewer other members of the public could be infected.

‘IFF has a long history of developing innovative solutions for a multitude of global challenges,’ commented Dr. Gregory Yep, IFF’s Chief Scientific and Sustaina­bility Officer. ‘Our ongoing collaboration with Dr. Albers underscores our commitment to do more good for people and planet, and I hope our donation can help contribute to a solution for this pandemic.’

The Blavatnik Sensory Disorders Fund at Harvard Medical School is enabling the building of apps that allow long-distance symptom tracking and smell testing from home, and up to 400 patients at MGH, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Spaulding Rehabiliation Hospital will be participating in their first round of testing.

After receiving a small and simple to use scratch card, the test will then be conducted on a patient’s own phone app (or via a tablet, or computer.) During the test, participants will answer a series of questions about possible COVID-19 symptoms and loss of smell and/or taste. By distributing this free smell test, the hopes are that presymptomatic detection of anosmia will trigger full testing and prompt patients to self-isolate – even if no other symptoms are present.

With the recent lowering of social distancing measures, many experts fear a second (and possibly even larger) spike in the numbers of new COVID-19 infections, it behoves us to be extra cautious and to be forewarned, as they say, is forearmed.

Dr. Mark Albers, an MGH neurologist specialising in memory and olfactory disorders, was one of the leading experts who wanted to set up the test, explaining that, ‘There is so much we don’t know about COVID-19, but the research shows that loss of smell and taste play a prominent role in identifying possible patients with the virus,’

‘If we can provide reliable self-administered tests to people and health care workers,’ Dr. Albers continued, ‘we may be able to slow the spread of the disease in the future and chart recovery of smell function, which may be helpful to determine when it is safe to reengage after having the COVID infection.’

Fascinating, isn’t it, how we are only now discovering how many medical conditions have early warning signs reflected in a loss of smell? Perhaps now, those scientists who were toiling away studying the sense of smell – which for so many years was disregarded as insignificant – will be taken more seriously; and (we hope – perhaps naively) will be given the funding they so desperately need.

By Suzy Nightingale

Important! Crowdsourcing Covid-19 symptom survey needs YOUR help

Perfumer and brand founder Christophe Laudamiel has joined the Global Consortium for Chemosensory Research in calling attention to the loss of smell as a vital clue in the on-going fight against the Covid-19 virus.

Laudamiel writes:

‘An incredibly surprising twist to the pandemic is that a unique symptom of COVID-19, even among those who barely feel any other symptoms, is an abrupt and total loss of the sense of smell. That loss lasts for about a week and is scary enough for the public to realise the importance of their noses…’

As we previously reported back when #lockdown first began, this loss of smell is often the only symptom noticed, and it’s incredibly important to tell your doctor about this, and take actions, because otherwise you may be unwittingly spreading the virus.

Now, the scientific community are working together – and asking for YOUR help – to create a global database of anonymously submitted symptoms, so that the spread of all respitory illnesses / loss of smell type smptoms can be tracked. It is vital to have a global databse of this information for any true picture, and for work to be done on creating a possible vaccine or other preventative measures to be taken.

The Global Consortium consists of open-science contributors: transdisciplinary scientists, clinicians, and patient advocates from all over the world, and their advice is:

– If you lose your sense of smell, call your doctor and get tested. This will potentially save your life, and the lives of those near you.

– If you have, or think you have suffered from Covid-19, or even from a cold or ‘Flu in 2020, we ask that you very crucially ANSWER THIS OFFICIAL PUBLIC-SAFETY SURVEY

Says Laudamiel: ‘The survey will take about ten minutes and is totally anonymous, hosted on an open Penn State University server and ccomplies to EU rules and global ethic standards.

English, Spanish, French, German and 6 other languages are available, 20 more languages to come very soon.

Please take it seriously. The results will be published and immediately utilised by health authorities, doctors, patients and olfactory workers worldwide.’

By taking just a few minutes to report any symptoms you have – you will be doing the whole world a favour. And apart from anything else, it will be fascinating for scientists to see how widespread the loss of of the sense of smell is on a global scale. This is an issue that’s been too long ignored or not taken particularly seriously, and those who have suffered smell loss can tell you how utterly devastating this can be, quite apart from the fact that smell loss is already recognised as a possible early warning sign of Alzheimers and now, known to be a symptom of Covid-19 too…

By Suzy Nightingale

Covid-19 and loss of smell: IMPORTANT news for noses

We know that there are many rumours swirling around the coronavirus, but we felt that this was worth circulating to a community which is highly tuned into its sense of smell.

Top ENT specialists have pinpointed loss of sense of smell – a.k.a. ‘anosmia’ – as a potential symptom of those carrying the Covid-19 virus, who are otherwise asymptomatic.

Previously, we were told to look out for symptoms such as a high fever and a new continuous, dry cough – and for people with those symptoms to self-isolate within their own homes. Scientists suspected, however, that the wide-spreading of the virus has, in part, been due to otherwise seemingly healthy people going out and about – unaware that they are carrying the virus and unwittingly infecting others.

The British Association of Otorhinolaryngology (ENT UK) published a statement that these anosmia symptoms had been found among ‘…a number of patients in the “absence of other symptoms”‘.

Professor Claire Hopkins, president of the British Rhinological Society, and Professor Nirmal Kumar, president of ENT UK, remarked in the joint statement, published online, that they’d noticed a significant and sudden rise ‘in cases of isolated anosmia’ — total or partial smell loss — in the UK, US, France and northern Italy.

The statement goes on to remark that they ‘…think these patients may be some of the hitherto hidden carriers that have facilitated the rapid spread of Covid-19,’ commenting that, ‘Unfortunately, these patients do not meet current criteria for testing or self isolation.’

As fragrance-lovers we are generally more in-tune with our noses and sense of smell than the majority of people, simply due to the fact we spend so much time focussing on scent, concentrating on how it smells. (And, of course, lavishly spraying ourselves in our favourites and describing them to others.) Therefore, we are perhaps in a better place to notice a loss of smell more immediately. And therefore – more importantly – to act on it.

Although current government guidelines on self-isolating with signs of coronavirus do not yet specifically mention the loss of smell as a symptom, it is worth pointing out that the advice DOES state that we should self-isolate and take extra precautions if you are displaying any symptoms at all, ‘however mild’.

What to do if you have recently lost your sense of smell:

As of last night, the government have enforced a complete ‘lockdown’ within the U.K. – a precaution that the French authorities undertook a week ago. Now that the ENT specialists have made the link between a loss of smell as a clue you may be a carrier of Covid-19, even if you don’t have a high temperature or a cough, if you live with other people, the advice is that you should take extra precations and self-isolate as much as possible within your own house.

This means not sharing bathrooms or kitchens, if at all possible. Where only one bathroom or kitchen is available, there are other measures you can take to prevent the spread of infection – such as not sharing towels or tea-towels, and information about how to thoroughly clean your shared living space.

Currently it seems the majority of those who did lose their sense of smell due to carrying the Covid-19 virus are reporting that they have fully recovered their sense of smell after around a month (much quicker in the case of one sufferer we know personally), though these are early days and much has still to be learned. Fifth Sense, a U.K. charity for those with smell and taste disorders, also have a useful article on their website regarding Covid-19 and the loss of smell.

Another source of contact for those who have lost their sense of smell – through a virus, due to medication or from birth – is the recently established charity AbScent which has lots of great advice on their website.

These are scary things to read, indeed, and of course worrying times for us all. But there is good news coming out of China, for those who are recovering and for whom life is slowly going back to (an albeit new) kind of normality. This has only been achieved by everyone working together, following the guidelines and self-isolating.

As difficult as this is, we CAN get through this together, and we shall emerge with a new sense of just how important it is to talk to our neighbours, to check in on the most vulnerable within our communities, and to grasp every moment of freedom and health with joy. Even if that’s only meeting a friend for coffee or going to an art gallery or literally stopping to smell the roses. How we shall treasure those moments anew when we can do them, freely, again.

And we shall do, we shall.

Stay safe, dear fragrant friends.

By Suzy Nightingale

AbScent – Lost your sense of smell? They can help…

Chrissi Kelly lost her sense of smell in 2012. She had no idea how seriously this would impact on her life – and how many people struggle with this on a daily basis. Since then, she’s launched AbScent and devoted her life to finding out more about the loss of smell, and developed Snif: a smell training app that’s a personal coach to re-building or enhancing the sense of smell…

Since the devastating loss of smell caused by a virus, Chrissi Kelly has been busy founding the charity AbScent, and supporting thousands of other people with smell loss through smell training. Having taken courses with Professor Thomas Hummel, the author of the first research paper on smell training at the University of Dresden, Germany; Chrissi used his tried and trusted techniques alongside specially devised ‘smell training kits’, which have significantly helped people to reconnect with their recovering sense of smell. Chrissi also speaks at conferences, runs workshops, online events and private sessions to support people with the condition. She’s a busy woman, indeed, and we were thrilled to join her at Jo Malone London‘s flagship Regent Street Store, recently, where they were kindly playing host to the official launch of AbScent.

 

 

Chrissi explained ‘the three pillars of smell training’ approach AbScent use to aid those with a loss of smell – be that from a head injury, illness, medication or even those who were born with what they perceive as no sense of smell at all. The message is, there is help out there, and there are active ways you can learn more, connect with others and improve your sense of smell with time.

Step 1:Find out where your sense of smell is today. Use the AbScent self-assessment form, here. You won’t know if you are improving if you don’t know where you’ve started.’

Step 2: Smell Train. There are full instructions for making your own Smell Training Kit, here. Or, if you prefer, you can purchase a pre-assembled Smell Training Kit.

Step 3: Take note of your experiences. AbScent provide a guide for keeping notes and a downloadable diary.

You can also now use the online Snif App – to ‘guide and instruct users so that each smell training session is consistent and productive. Snif becomes a personal coach that takes the guesswork out of practicing, presenting a mindful and focussed way of tracking your development. Currently web-based, a native app is in the works.

 

 

Think of it as physiotherapy for your nose,’ AbScent explain. ‘The brain can rewire itself, but this is a slow process. Smell training is a commitment and it takes time. You will need to train for a minimum of four months, twice a day.’ That may seem like quite an undertaking, but when you realise how earth-shattering a loss of smell can be, it’s definitely worthwhile. ‘I’d say that pretty much everyone who has suffered loss of smell goes on to develop depression in varying forms,’ Chrissi told us.

Imagine not being able to smell your own child, your partner – yourself. Or wondering is a phantom burning smell is actually your house burning down – a loss of smell isn’t simply not being able to smell things as well/at all: it can come with a whole host of disturbing side-effects, such as all food and drink suddenly tasting foul (leading to eating disorders or malnutrition).

It can feel incredibly difficult to go to your doctor if you’re not sure how to describe your symptoms, or what they need to know. Be assured that the medical profession are now – thank goodness – taking smell loss seriously. And AbScent have made a guide to talking to your doctor, so you know exactly what to say. They even have a list of clinics to go for further help.

 

 

AbScent have also launched a Sense of Smell Project. ‘We are trying to learn more about what it is like to live with this condition and how people’s lives change as a result.’ By taking part in their survey and telling your story, you can help them get a clear overview of subjects that may have not been considered, in order to ‘develop healing strategies and better ways to support patients.’

We cannot applaud enough, the work that Chrissi and her AbScent team have done so far, and their aims of helping even more people who may well have been ignored – or not even taken their own loss of smell seriously – for so long. We also hope that other fragrance houses will join in the support. Smell loss can strike any one of us at any time, and if we all work together, what a world of sensorial discoveries we could uncover…

By Suzy Nightingale

What is your #LongLostSmell? Fifth Sense (the anosmia charity) would love to know…

… And so would we.

We’ve written about anosmia – the loss of the sense of smell – in the latest Love & Scents edition of The Scented Letter, with a moving article by fragrance blogger Louise Woollam about what happened to her when she developed various ‘smell disorders’ after a virus.

Next Friday (27th February) is actually Anosmia Awareness Day, and in advance of that Duncan Boak – who founded Fifth Sense after he lost his own sense of smell – would like us all to take some time to think and imagine what it would be like to have your sense of smell taken away.

Then ask yourself: what would be your #LongLostSmell? Please tweet that – and they’ll be collated on Storify. (We’ll also be sharing these  #LongLostSmell tweets in a future edition of The Scented Letter.) Just a few examples are featured below – and click on the hashtags here for the latest tweets…

You can Instagram a photo that evokes what you’d miss most, too.

To support Fifth Sense‘s work (which we at The Perfume Society are proud to do), donate here to help raise funds for future research into taste and smell disorders.
And now: close your eyes and imagine that #LongLostSmell

www.fifthsense.org.uk
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A glimpse of Louise Woollam‘s article, which you can read in the Love & Scents edition of The Scented Letter when you’re logged in to our site as a VIP Subscriber
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