It’s been almost a year since Kelby Russell first lost his sense of smell.

In the second week of March 2020, Russell, winemaker at Newt’s Red Cellars in New York’s Finger Lakes district, was in London to present his wines. Or at least that was the plan. About 48 hours after his visit, the world was gripped by fears of a new coronavirus pandemic spreading rapidly. He took an emergency flight back to the States.

Four days later, isolated at home, he began to feel a little depressed.

As London was a few weeks ahead of us in the transition from winter to spring, I assumed my allergies were getting worse and used a nasal spray, Russell explains. After three hours, I noticed that the soap I was using suddenly didn’t smell. I could still breathe through my nose just fine, but the smells had suddenly disappeared.

When Kelby Russell lost his sense of smell last spring, it was not yet recognized as a possible symptom of Covid-19 / Photo courtesy of the Red Newt Cellars.

That night Russell ordered a meal at a local Thai restaurant. He asked for an extra spicy seasoning that cut off his nose. But it didn’t work. My nose remained clear, although I didn’t smell or taste anything, he says.

Aside from a slight fever, Russell felt perfectly normal. As time passed, he became more and more panicked by the lack of smell. These were the early stages of the pandemic, and loss of the sense of smell had not yet been recognized as a possible symptom of Covid-19.

I was terrified that my career was over, not to mention the joy of food and wine, Russell said. That’s what made my career. It’s a great bond with my partner, who is also a winemaker. It felt like I was being attacked in everything I knew about myself, and I didn’t know why.

There are few data on the number of people who have experienced odor loss due to Covid-19. In June 2020, a Mayo Clinic survey of 8,438 people infected with the virus found that 41% of them suffered from some form of odor loss. In another study, 100 people with Covid-19 passed an odor identification test. 18% passed an odor identification test.

I was afraid my career was over, not to mention the joys of food and wine…. It felt like I was being attacked in everything I knew about myself, and I didn’t know why. – Kelby Russell, Red Newt Cellars.

Researchers are still trying to understand why some coronavirus patients have a loss of sense of smell. One theory is that the virus can infect scent-sensitive neurons.

The olfactory nerve is affected by covidaemia, and it’s an extracranial nerve, says Sharon Stoll, a neurologist at the Yale Clinic. During her battle with Covid-19, she also lost her sense of smell. The nerve is not necessarily in the brain, but in the skull. It’s in the skull, but not the brain.

Another theory is that the virus can cause inflammation, for example B. leaky blood vessels, in the bulbus olfactorius (not to be confused with the nervus olfactorius).

The way the smell came back to me, and what I’ve read in the literature, is just the way skull or peripheral nerve problems come back, which is very, very slow, Stoll says. Because nerve growth is about a millimeter a month. It can take months for people to get their scent back.

More than six months after losing his sense of smell, Brent Noll continues to struggle with his scent choices / Photo by Zeke Kitchen

Russell claims to have regained his sense of smell in a few weeks, but not Brent Noll, general manager of Waterbar in San Diego. Last summer, after having employees bring home open bottles of wine, someone asked him to smell the Malbec to see if it still sang.

I didn’t feel a single note, and then it hit me, Noll said. I quietly walked around all the bottles and pretended to check them out, but I was utterly shocked that I didn’t taste anything or couldn’t taste anything. I went home and opened a bottle of Syrah which I drank countless times and still nothing. He has also lost some of his sense of taste.

Then he started to lose his mind. He went to the corner store to buy a few bottles of bottom. I came home, opened them all, and still nothing, Noll said. For the next week I tried to smell her every morning, but it didn’t work.

Even after his test for Covid-19 was negative, the loss of smell persisted.

Most notable was the conversation with the tables about the bottle of wine they ordered, Noll says. My knowledge was always there, but my inability to smell or taste really limited my options and my trust in my guest. What’s even more frustrating is that I can’t enjoy a batch of cookies and fresh milk with my daughter, which was a weekly tradition during lockdown.

Neurologist Sharon Stoll also lost her sense of smell in a battle with Covid-19 / Photo : Robert Lizak, Yale Medicine

More than six months later, Noll is still fighting.

I still can’t perceive the smells, which can be frustrating, but they are coming back, just very, very slowly, he says. Will I ever be 100% again? Would I be more receptive if I reached out to him again? Who knows? It’s not the flu, as everyone likes to pretend. It was scary for me.

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