In January, a teenager in Waco, Texas, made headlines for saving her family from a fire ravaging their home. Her loved ones all were recovering from ­COVID-19 and had lost their sense of smell. She was the only one who had not contracted the
virus. The rest of her family couldn’t smell the smoke, and they had no idea that a blaze ­ignited as they slept.

Anosmia—the technical term for loss of the sense of smell—is a pervasive problem for those who have had ­COVID-19. A study published in January 2021 in Journal of Internal Medicine followed more than 2,500 patients seen at 18 hospitals across Europe who had the olfactory dysfunction. ­Surprisingly, this long-term symptom mostly affected people with a mild form of the ­virus—85.9% of that group self-­reported it, while only 4.5% of those with a moderate form and 6.9% of those most ­severely afflicted listed it. While 95% of all participants had their smell returned at a six-month follow-up, it’s crucial to take defensive steps to protect your well-being while waiting for your senses to return to normal…

Install a gas detector. Though not as common as smoke detectors, these devices alert you to a gas leak by sounding an alarm and flashing lights—a lifeline when your nose can’t pick up the usual rotten-egg smell. Place one near each gas line, usually somewhere in the kitchen and possibly in other ­locations, such as near your water heater or furnace if it runs on gas. If you’re signed up with a security monitoring company, gas monitoring often can be added to the system.

Also important: Regularly check, test and replace the batteries for your existing smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Check them at least twice a year, if not more often.

Take steps to avoid eating spoiled food. When your nose can’t alert you to a food that’s turned bad, follow food-safety rules of thumb. Be extra cautious about any food you are not 100% sure about, and throw out leftovers after four days. Check expiration dates on food packages daily—toss them without hesitation.

Skip strong household chemicals. You may not sense how potent strong cleaners are until your eyes start ­watering—and by then you’ve most likely already overexposed yourself. And definitely take care not to mix common yet volatile products, such as bleach and ammonia or bleach and vinegar, which can create toxic fumes.

Getting Your Nose in Gear

You don’t have to sit by idly while waiting for your sense of smell to return. Since anosmia is caused by injury to the supporting cells around the olfactory or smell nerves, it may be possible to jump-start your recovery with olfactory training.

Choose three or four of your favorite essential oils, and sniff each one deeply for 10 seconds twice a day.

You might also try mindfully smelling things that you encounter during your day, from your morning coffee to a bottle of perfume or the piece of salmon you broiled for dinner.

Another helpful step may be to maintain good nasal hygiene with a neti pot—use it daily with a saline rinse to keep your nose healthy. This will keep your nasal passages clean and may help to reduce inflammation that can prolong or prevent the recovery of your sense of smell.