Long Covid: ‘Everything tasted like cardboard’

Becky Nelson Image copyright Becky Nelson
Image caption Becky Nelson has to take a “really deep inhale to the point I’m going to pass out” before she can smell anything

It’s been a long day, your stomach’s rumbling and you’ve just tucked into your favourite Jamaican dish: you wait for that kick, but nothing, no taste whatsoever.

That was the reality for 23-year-old Horcel Kamaha in March when he contracted coronavirus – and his loss of taste would last for three long months.

“Everything that had really strong flavours, I couldn’t taste,” he says. “I was mostly eating Jamaican food and I couldn’t taste it at all, everything tasted like paper or cardboard.”

Now, scientists think a loss of taste and smell is the best way of knowing you’ve caught the virus, but it wasn’t until April that it was added to the list of symptoms.

There’s also a lot of mystery around the long-term effects of Covid-19, but the government says it’ll be setting aside millions of pounds for research – good news for the thousands of people in the UK who have reported symptoms going on for more than a month, according to data from the Covid Symptom app.

Image copyright Horcel Kamaha
Image caption Horcel is worried his loss of smell will be permanent

Horcel, whose sense of smell is still not recovered, tells Newsbeat: “I felt confused but it was so early on, I just went about my business as normal.

“I was concerned about my own body odour, you know, you’ll smell your clothes to see if its needs a wash.

“The other frustrating thing is that my smell isn’t the same anymore and some things I can’t eat, I’ve lost the taste for it.

“I can officially say Covid-19 ruined my sense of smell and I’m kind of worried it’s permanent.”

‘Peppers taste like grass’

This is relatable for Eve Tredwen Barry, a 23-year-old south Londoner, whose symptoms also started in March.

“I remember eating a pizza and it tasted like I was eating nothing,” she says.

“It’s permanently affected how some things taste, for example bell peppers now taste exactly how freshly cut grass smells.

“A lot of things smell weirdly like pickles to me, like dill pickles or sweet pickles. A lot of the time someone might ask me ‘what’s that smell?’ and I can’t smell anything at all.

“I’m really not sure why people aren’t talking about this more, it really affects people’s mental health not being able to taste food.

“I know that sounds silly as I am lucky to have recovered but food is a huge source of happiness for me.”

Image copyright Eve Tredwen Barry
Image caption Eve Tredwen Barry urged people to wear a mask

Worried about the long-term consequences, Eve went to see a doctor but says “they seemed equally clueless on how to help”.

After failed attempts with allergy medicine prescribed by her GP, Eve has a message for people who aren’t taking the idea of longer symptoms seriously.

“I’d like to urge people to wear their masks – we don’t know the long-term effects fully yet.

“Hopefully some more research comes out about the nerve damage and neurological effects that Covid has, since it’s now been seven months and no-one seems to know why.”

‘Layer of anxiety’

Becky Nelson, aged 27 from Manchester, says her sense of smell “disappeared instantly”.

“I went to light a candle, it was the weirdest thing because it’s a really prominent candle, every time I walk past it without it even being lit I can smell it,” she says.

“And then I just thought, wait a minute I don’t think I can smell this. It’s a weird one.”

A loss of smell and taste was the main symptom that prompted Becky to get tested and her results came back positive.

Now, well over the two-week period the virus is said to be active for, she’s not too sure what think about the future.

“The smell is definitely taking a lot longer to come back than the taste,” she says.

“I’ve got to take a really deep inhale to the point I’m going to pass out before I can get a scent of anything.”

Becky describes the added “layer of anxiety” of having to think about things that never crossed her mind before.

“I’d be lying in bed and think ‘what if there’s a fire in the night’ like I can’t smell smoke, do my smoke alarms work.”

NHS England’s Your Covid Recovery website offers support for all patients recovering from Covid.

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