Live 5 Investigates: Uncommon COVID-19 symptom months after recovery

Updated: Nov. 12, 2020 at 5:00 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Over the summer, a hug and a quick conversation with her sister was enough to pass the coronavirus to Morgan Lancaster.

“I’m 99 percent sure I got it from my sister,” Lancaster, who lives in Mt. Pleasant, said. “She was coming home and I was leaving and I gave her a hug and two days later she showed symptoms and tested positive. And around that time frame I started to feel bad as well and ended up testing positive."

Lancaster had severe symptoms for several days.

“COVID-19 was actually really hard," she said. “A lot of people believe that if you’re young, that it won’t impact you greatly but it actually did...I would easily say that it’s the illest that I’ve ever been in my life.”

Lancaster had body aches, headaches and lost her sense of taste and smell.

“I’ve had the flu. I’ve had other viruses, but this was absolutely the worst no doubt,” she said about COVID-19.

After about two weeks of heavy symptoms she started to feel better and regained her sense of smell and taste. For months, everything was back to normal.

“And then, about three months after I regained taste and smell, I started to notice these really odd smells and it wouldn’t go away,” Lancaster said. "At first popcorn smelled really chemical to me. My husband would pop popcorn and I would just feel like I needed a breath of fresh air because it was just an awful smell.”

She describes it like the smell of rotting pumpkin or squash.

“It was just a really bad smell," Lancaster said. She smelled it when cooking meat, when walking her dog near Shem Creek and even smelled it in her toothpaste.

After several weeks of no answers, Lancaster found some articles online about people experiencing a similar symptom.

“My coworker was on Google one day and an article finally popped up for her and she was like, ‘Oh my gosh! This is the exact same thing you’ve been explaining!'" Lancaster said. “And I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is crazy,’ and honestly that was all the justification that I needed... I’m not crazy.”

Dr. Mark Ghegan at Charleston Ear, Nose Throat and Allergy said while this symptom is not common, he has seen it.

“We have seen a fair number of people who’ve noticed a change in their smell and taste, and whether that’s recently onset after COVID or something that’s been lingering for months on, we’ve seen an uptick in that,” he added.

Ghegan said COVID-19 is not the first virus to affect these senses.

“We’ve always known viruses can affect all the nerves in the head and neck but specifically the nerves of the olfactory system. With COVID I think there’s been a heightened awareness of it," he said. Most studies have shown impacts to smell and taste eventually go back to normal.

“But for some people it lingers on and then a small subset do get these kind of foul, or odd smells or tastes,” Ghegan said. "It can be really frustrating.”

Ghegan said patients can take a smell identification test which works somewhat like scratch-and-sniff cards. The test allows doctors to determine if the patient’s sense of smell is improving, staying the same or getting worse. He also recommends a smell kit which uses essential oils to re-train the brain.

Lancaster is willing to try anything to get her sense of smell back to normal.

“I do want to get the problem fixed!" she said. "I would like to have something cooking and say, "Oh my goodness that smells so good.' I want to experience that again. I am interested in scent training. And I do want to find a solution to this. and I don’t know if that’s time, or if that is a certain training, but I’m willing to give it a shot.”

Lancaster also wants young people to realize that COVID-19 can make you very sick and can impact your health even months after diagnosis.

You can read more about this symptom and smell loss by clicking on the links below:

Smell training with Abscent

MUSC study

Charleston ENT loss of smell

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