The founder of an online support group for people who have experienced a loss or changed sense of taste and smell after contracting Covid-19 says there is a mood of ‘desperation’ among its members.

The founder of an online support group for people who have experienced a loss or changed sense of taste and smell after contracting Covid-19 says there is a mood of ‘desperation’ among its members.
The ‘Tasteless Cuisine’ Facebook group was set up last November by Declan Cassidy from Mornington, Co Meath.
It has expanded rapidly during the current lockdown and now has almost 650 members.
Describing his reasons for establishing the group, Mr Cassidy said: “I contracted Covid-19 in March of last year. But after recovering from the virus, I found that I had lost my taste and smell. 
“Initially, I resorted to putting jalapenos into absolutely everything, including my morning porridge. However, I figured out that if this continued past three or four months, the chances of me getting my taste and smell back were diminished. 
“By October, I was in a pretty bad way with my mental health and I was quite depressed about it. I was almost embarrassed about talking about taste and smell when people were dying from Covid-19. 
“So, the group was set up in a kind of light-hearted way, to try to find some recipes to spark off some sort of taste and smell.
“But very quickly I realised that this was really affecting people’s mental health. And so it has morphed into an online support group.”
Declan Cassidy founded the ‘Tasteless Cuisine’ group last November.
A loss or change to your sense of taste and smell is a common symptom of Covid-19.
Many patients recover or improve within a month, although some, like Mr Cassidy, still haven’t regained these senses after almost a year. 
He said: “The difficulty for people like me is that physically, we seem fine. But when you lose your taste and smell, you realise that it impacts an awful lot of your daily activities.
“There are also safety concerns. I burnt my dinner yesterday, yet again, because I couldn’t smell it burning. 
“And like everyone else in the pandemic, there’s a tendency to turn towards comfort food. However, people like us find that it doesn’t provide an answer. It’s a disappointment, which only compounds the problem.”
Kaci Thornton from Drogheda contracted Covid-19 last October.
Kaci Thornton from Drogheda is one of the youngest members of the group.
The 14-year-old contracted Covid-19 last October.
However, she began to experience changes in her taste and smell several weeks later, which her doctor says could be a “post Covid symptom”.
Kaci said: “I can taste and smell things, but the problem is I get this horrible, sour, sickly taste in food. I can’t stand the smell when someone is cooking in the kitchen. And I feel so sad when my family is downstairs eating their dinner and I’m upstairs.”
Ella-Rose McIntyre lost her taste and smell four months ago.
Another teenager, 18-year-old Ella-Rose McIntyre from Limerick, also contracted Covid-19 last October.
She lost her taste and smell without displaying any other symptoms.
Ella-Rose said: “I have the faintest idea whether something is salty, spicy or sweet, but aside from that, there is nothing. I rely on the texture and temperature of food, but it is really hard.
“Loss of smell also severely affects me. I can never tell if something has gone off or is burning. I have tried so many different remedies to get my senses back, but nothing has helped at all.”
Debbie Maher’s taste and smell still haven’t fully returned after almost a year.
Debbie Maher, a general practice nurse from Co Westmeath, tested positive for coronavirus last March.
Eleven months on, her taste and smell still haven’t fully returned.
She said: “Meat, or anything with protein in it, can taste rancid or metallic. I used to love a glass of wine, but I can’t drink wine at all now. It just tastes horrible.  
“Other little things like body odour become a concern. Sometimes I am at work and I would be paranoid that my body odour wasn’t great. That’s because you just can’t smell it anymore, even the deodorant. 
“Things like that have really impacted on my life. And that’s why you enjoy the days when it does come back. I remember a day last year when I was driving. I could smell the hay that had been cut in the field and I was over the moon.”
Several international studies are focussed on the sensory impact of Covid-19, how long it lasts and what can be done to treat it.
One study by Harvard Medical School researchers found that cells that support sensory neurons in the nose are probably what the virus is infecting.
Their findings suggest that infection of these cell types may be responsible for loss of smell in patients.
However, while scientists have some understanding of the impact of the virus on smell, they still have little idea about how the coronavirus affects taste.
The overall lack of research in both areas means few established treatments exist.
Training may help some people regain smell or taste. (Getty Images)
The HSE advises that a treatment called smell training might help some people.
HSE Lead for Integrated Care, Dr Siobhán Ni Bhriain, said: “It is suggested that people try exposing themselves to different types of smells and tastes. So, that could be something strong, like a lemon, a cup of coffee or essential oils. It appears that this may be helping people to retrain and regain their sense of smell and taste.
“We learn from stroke rehabilitation and accident rehabilitation that if people retrain their muscles and their nerves it can help them to regain function.
“So, that’s part of the thinking behind retraining your sense of smell. If you expose yourself and try to reuse, it can help. It takes a lot of time, but we do know from those other examples that recovery can happen.”
Dr Ni Bhriain added that it was “inevitable and understandable” that people would have concerns about long-term loss of taste or smell.
“With Covid-19, the hope is the more we learn, the more we will be able to manage it. Within the HSE we have developed a psychosocial framework for supporting people at every level around the mental health burden that can be associated with the virus. A lot of that information is available via HSE.ie, HSELive and yourmentalhealth.ie.
“Taste and smell are hugely important in our everyday lives. It’s not just about eating and food. It’s about memory. It’s about a sense of place. I wouldn’t dismiss it as an insignificant symptom and that’s why there will continue to be a lot of work going on in this space.”
Declan Cassidy says there is a mood of ‘desperation’ among members of the group.
The promise of further research and future treatments offers some hope to Declan Cassidy.
However, he says until there is a breakthrough, people like him have little option but to try to support to one another.
“We really aren’t really getting support from anywhere else, especially during lockdown. Many of our members are quite isolated and wouldn’t physically be able to reach out to somebody who understands what they are going through.
“So, there is a lot of therapy going on within the group. Every now and again a post is quite explosive and somebody just vents. And because we understand, we are able to give comfort, I think. I certainly have got a lot of comfort from the group.”
The HSE says if you are experiencing a new loss of taste or smell you should self-isolate and phone your GP.
It says further information on smell training is available from UK-based charities such as AbScent or Fifth Sense.