Saturday, April 01, 2023
Web Desk

People with lack of smell, taste after COVID-19 can benefit from new treatment

Experts say it's too early to say definitely about effectiveness of treatment, suggesting further studies in this treatment

Web Desk
People wait to receive coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccines at a vaccination centre in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia May 31, 2021. — Reuters
People wait to receive coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccines at a vaccination centre in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia May 31, 2021. — Reuters

Those people suffering from loss of smell — anosmia — as a result of long COVID-19 can be restored with a numbing procedure called stellate ganglion block, NBC News reported.

Usually, this procedure is for pain treatment in which doctors use anaesthesia to numb any part of the body. In this treatment for COVID-19, it is injected into a specific bundle of nerves — part of the sympathetic nervous system — on both sides of a person's neck. The nervous system controls the main functions of the body such as digestion.

Doctors are debating its impact on a person's life with some questioning the approach while others see real improvements as people started to have taste and smell.

Smell disorders and anosmia become common with age affecting numerous people. The National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication disorders noted that every one out of eight people, over the age of 40 years in the US is suffering from more or less olfactory dysfunction.

A survey conducted last year highlighted that 15% of those people who contracted COVID-19 are facing problems with smell and taste even after several months.

There's no proper treatment to treat this; however, a therapy of sniffing four cents — rose, eucalyptus, lemon and clove — twice a day for at least three months has shown positive results in trials.

Efforts to get the smell back

Doctors at Cleveland are offering the stellate ganglion block approach with the hope of clinical trials.

Jennifer Henderson, 54, who received stellate ganglion block for COVID-19 at Cleveland was suffering from a similar condition as he was unable to taste or smell anything. After the shot, she could smell the coffee.

"It was the best smell ever. I just cried like a baby", Henderson said.

Dr Christina Shin — a physician in pain management at the hospital — said she had treated around 30 such patients and half of them get their senses back. She estimated that the "level of improvement varies between 25% and 90%."

The astonishing results like Handerson reinvigorated hope in people but doctors are still questioning the process.

Suggestions are that the shot resets the sympathetic nerves while some say it increases blood flow.

Dr Justin Turner, an associate professor in the department of otolaryngology – head and neck surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Centre in Nashville believes there is no evidence to back its effectiveness.

"Given the lack of data suggesting efficacy, it's really hard to advocate for this for patients who have a problem that typically resolves with time," he said.

Dr Zara Patel of Stanford University said 80% of people recover naturally within six months.

"Throughout our lifetime, probably every three to four months, each olfactory receptor neuron dies off, and a new olfactory receptor neuron comes in and takes its place," Patel said.

A distorted smell is called parosmia which has a deep impact on a person's life. Researchers in 2021, UK found that people were worried. how they felt about their children.

"A lot of my maternal bonding feelings for my children are tied up with the smell," a woman was quoted as saying in the study.

Other methods to revive smell

The stellate ganglion block for COVID-19 is not the only method to deal with the problem. Patel, of Stanford, conducted a study on injecting platelet-rich plasma that might help neurons work normally.

In the procedure, a person’s blood is removed with all the components other than growth factors and platelets to ignite the growth of different types of tissues.

Patel noted: "Hopefully, what platelet-rich plasma is doing is getting those neurons to regenerate in a way so that the correct signal is sent back to the brain."

In the experiment, people who got the plasma reported improvement 12 times more than those who received a placebo. After this, Patel is offering this procedure to patients suffering from this problem.

Is stellate ganglion block treatment effective?

Stellate ganglion block treatment was made popular back after its successful treatment by Dr Luke Liu, a pain specialist in Anchorage, in December 2021.

Other symptoms have also improved in patients, he said.

He theorised that the problem occurs due to glitches after long COVID effects but the stellate ganglion block resets the nervous system.

He treated around three hundred patients and reported 60-70% improvement.

However, he said it is too early to say definitely about the effectiveness of the treatment, suggesting that further studies in this regard are required.