In The News: COVID-19

COVID-19 & Loss of Smell: How Much Do You Know?

The overwhelming majority—approximately 86% of people—who have COVID-19 report either partial or total loss of their ability to smell. Experts aren’t yet entirely sure what causes this and why it differs from the usual causes of reduced ability to smell associated with seasonal upper respiratory infections. However, there are some interesting things we do know about this hallmark symptom of COVID-19.

What We Know About COVID & Loss of Smell

Besides complete loss of smell (anosmia), COVID can also cause the qualitative disturbance of smell and distortion of the perception of a smell. These are called dysosmia and parosmia respectively. Out of the 86% of people who experienced any of the three, nearly 55% had only mild cases of COVID-19. Why? It’s suspected that they have higher levels of antibodies that prevent the spread of COVID to the nose. 

In any case, loss of smell has become an early indicator of the likelihood of a severe case of COVID. And although it mainly seems to affect individuals with mild COVID cases, the impact can still be far-reaching. Dr. Carolyn Word of the Charleston Allergy & Asthma team is one example of this. 

More than 60 days after her bout with the virus, she still had not fully recovered her sense of smell. She said, “For example, if I’m standing right over the stove, I can smell bacon but not the smell wafting through the house. I can’t detect smells in the ambient air; they have to be physically under my nose. But a month ago, I couldn’t smell anything right under my nose so I’m hopeful that this is a sign that I’ll continue to improve.”

Thousands of people have had similar experiences. While most recover their sense of smell within 3 weeks and certainly before the 60-day mark, not all are so fortunate. In one study, close to 25% of affected people suffered from loss of smell for more than 60 days and 5% for 6 months. And only time will tell if this could be a permanent issue for some. 

Loss of Smell: Why So Worrisome?

At first, loss of smell may not seem as serious as loss of sight or other senses. Yet, in reality, our sense of smell plays a huge role in daily living. For example, it can help us protect ourselves, alerting us to dangers such as fires and fumes. And besides emergencies, it’s also critical to maintaining a positive mental state. 

Especially for those with pre-existing mental health challenges such as depression and anxiety, it can be devastating not to be able to enjoy simple pleasures such as the smell of a favorite meal or other enjoyable, comforting fragrances. 

“One of the most difficult parts of losing my smell was missing out on the many things I find comforting,” said Dr. Word. “Any mom can likely relate, but not being able to pull my kids into a hug and smell them was heartbreaking. It was very eye-opening to sense how often a I rely on smell in my day-to-day, not just for going about everyday chores or tasks, but the joy and comfort that it can bring.”

Given these serious implications, you may wonder what can help those suffering from partial or total loss of smell due to COVID-19?

Treatment Options For Loss of Smell

Outside of waiting for your sense of smell to return on its own, there are a few things that can help it along. Some research suggests that topical steroids and certain supplements may help; these are options you may wish to discuss with your healthcare provider. 

Additionally, olfactory training (also known as smell therapy) is also an option. It involves a routine of smelling various scents and then reflecting on and visualizing what each one actually smells like. It’s thought that this combination of recognizable smells and visualization helps retrain the pathways to the brain and can speed up recovery from loss of smell. 

We are hopeful that as researchers and doctors continue to learn more about COVID-19, new forms of treatment and advancements in medicine will follow to provide more answers for the virus’ symptoms.

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Coping With COVID-19: A Mom’s Perspective | Charleston Allergy & Asthma

If you’ve managed to escape the grips of COVID-19 so far or don’t personally know anyone who’s tested positive for it, it can be hard to imagine the challenges of coping with it day-to-day. Yet, in light of the seriousness of the pandemic, we’re sharing the story of a mom whose life and family were impacted by the virus. It’s the story of our very own Dr. Carolyn Word.

Dr. Word’s COVID-19 Experience 

Despite being cautious, the majority of her immediate family came down with COVID-19, leading them to spend a total of 26 days in quarantine. 

It all started when her three-year-old daughter, although masked all day at preschool, was exposed. Dr. Word said, “We put her in quarantine and decided to test the whole family in an abundance of caution.” She, her husband and her other two children initially tested negative. 

Even still, everyone except her husband Robert got sick. He was spared because the decision was made for him to live apart from the family so he could return to work sooner. The rest of the family progressively fell ill. Symptoms ranged from cough, dry throat, and nasal congestion to fever, fatigue and headache. Dr. Word also experienced loss of smell and taste.

Beyond the physical symptoms, other challenges came with the situation as well. The family was separated due to quarantine, which was especially difficult around Thanksgiving and Christmastime. For Dr. Word, there was also the anxiety of trying to balance caring for her first priority—her children—while still trying to work via telehealth. And, that’s not to mention an often-overlooked effect of isolation. Dr. Word said, “The moment I knew we had a positive COVID test, there was a shame that came with it, as if we’d done something wrong. And I’m a rule follower.” 

Despite the challenges, though, the family tried to stay positive, eat healthy, play card games, enjoy crafts and do their best to take care of one another. Now that her family has recovered from COVID-19, Dr. Word has some words of wisdom to share.

 

Dealing With COVID-19: What You Can Do

If you come down with COVID-19, keep these three things in mind. 

  1. Make Healthy Choices: Be as active as possible, do deep breathing exercises for good lung expansion, drink lots of water, make healthy food choices and take vitamins. Besides that, do your best to keep your mind sharp with reading and other activities and keep your spirits up by video chatting with family and friends. 
  2. Be Prepared: While you don’t need to hoard supplies, you should be sure that you have the vitamins and medications you need on hand, especially if you have a condition such as asthma. It’s also wise to have a pulse oximeter, which measures your oxygen levels and can help you monitor the status of your health. 
  3. After COVID, Consider Plasma Donation: Some who recover from COVID-19 have antibodies in their blood, which can help people currently fighting the illness to fight off infection more efficiently. Once you have fully recovered from COVID-19, consider donating convalescent plasma as Dr. Word did. 

While there’s still a lot of mystery surrounding COVID-19, we do know that everything from its severity to the recovery process varies from person to person. Therefore, it’s important to continue to be extra cautious (for ourselves and others), and to know how best to handle it if impacted by the virus. From everyone here at Charleston Allergy & Asthma, stay safe and, if you have concerns or need information about coping with asthma and COVID-19, don’t hesitate to reach out

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What You Should Know About COVID-19 & Other Vaccines

While always a topic of interest, the COVID-19 pandemic has created more conversations than ever before surrounding vaccination. Specifically, many people are curious about the history of vaccines, how the coronavirus vaccine works, and how it compares to others. Dr. Meredith Moore, a board-certified allergist/immunologist on our Charleston Allergy & Asthma team offered some insight into these important topics. 

A Brief History of Vaccines

In 1796, Edward Jenner created the first successful vaccine using material from cowpox to ward off smallpox. 1885 saw the creation of the rabies vaccine and, thereafter, as a result of the dawn of bacteriology (the study of bacteria), many advancements were made through the 1930s. These included the development of tetanus, typhoid, cholera and tuberculosis vaccines. Then, in the ‘40s, the flu vaccine became available. Currently, it’s one of more than 20 vaccines that are in routine clinical use in the U.S. today. 

How were these and other vaccines made and how do they work? Many were created using a difficult, time-consuming process that involved:

  1. Growing enough of a dangerous virus or bacteria to mass-produce a vaccine
  2. Either inactivating it so that it can’t cause illness or purifying and stabilizing a portion of it so that it can be administered to patients

By safely introducing the immune system to the virus or bacteria, if and when real exposure happens, the immune system recognizes it as foreign material and aggressively launches an attack, producing antibodies to fight off infection. Is the same true of the COVID-19 vaccine?

What Makes the COVID-19 Vaccine Different

There are at least three things that set the COVID-19 vaccine apart. 

  1. Although having been researched for decades, the coronavirus vaccine uses a new technology with mRNA, which is a code that helps the body to produce proteins capable of fighting the virus. The use of this technology eliminated the need to grow the SARS-CoV2-2 virus to produce the vaccine, which allowed for rapid and relatively inexpensive production.
  2. mRNA is nothing more than a code, similar to a recipe card with instructions for generating the proteins needed to combat the SARS-CoV2-2 virus. Since it doesn’t contain a live virus, it’s safer than its counterparts because it can’t cause mutations. 
  3. The proteins in the coronavirus vaccine remain stable and potent in the vials without the help of the preservatives, adjuvants or antibiotics needed for other vaccines.

These positive advancements can give you peace of mind if you choose to be vaccinated. But you may still have questions. 

COVID-19 Vaccine FAQs

You’re not alone if you’ve wondered about any of the following. Here are answers to some common questions about the COVID vaccine. 

  1. How effective is it and how long does it last? The vaccine can provide up to 95% protection against COVID-19 and can reduce the severity of illness in those who still get infected. However, right now, it’s not certain how long this protection lasts.
  2. Why are some COVID-19 vaccines administered in two doses? The first dose exposes the immune system and the second boosts your antibody levels and immune response. The vaccine is only partially effective within two weeks of the first dose of the mRNA vaccines. Full effectiveness is reached seven days after receiving the second vaccine for most people, which highlights the importance of receiving both doses.
  3. Is vaccination necessary if I’ve already had COVID? Because we don’t know how long immunity lasts it is recommended that you still receive the vaccine. Plus, if you were to become infected again, even asymptomatically, you could pass the infection to others. The vaccine would reduce that risk. 
  4. Are masks, social distancing and other precautions necessary after vaccination? Besides the uncertainty surrounding how long immunity lasts, it’s good practice to keep taking precautions. If a significant portion of the population were to publicly abandon the recommended safety measures before widespread vaccination, this could perpetuate the spread of the disease.

To stay informed as more information becomes available, visit the CDC’s vaccine FAQs. It’s also recommended that you regularly check for updates on South Carolina’s vaccination plan so that you can make arrangements to get your vaccine as soon as you’re eligible.

 

Sources: 

https://www.historyofvaccines.org/timeline/all
https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/vaccine-benefits.html
https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/faq.html
https://scdhec.gov/covid19/covid-19-vaccine

 

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