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Long COVID patients turn to experimental treatment to fix altered sense of smell

For some people who survived COVID, the battle is far from over. Lingering symptoms known as long COVID can often include a loss or altered sense of smell, but one treatment may be offering hope to patients in an unexpected place.
You've heard about long COVID and people losing their sense of smell. However, there is a group of those people who can still smell, but everything smells like rotting food. The condition is called parosmia. Now, though, there now may be a solution and it's attracting patients to one clinic from all over the world.
For more than a year now, people have traveled far and wide to treat something other than pain at Republic Pain Specialists in Bryan, Texas -  it's an experimental treatment for a long COVID symptom called "parosmia," which is an altered sense of smell.
Patients who suffer from parosmia report food smelling like sewage, trash or rotting food. After the two injections at the clinic are administered to patients, several types of snacks are brought in for them to try and see if their altered sense of smell, due to long COVID, has returned to normal.
A map at Republic Pain Specialists shows from where patients have come from for an experimental treatment for a long COVID symptom, known as parosmia - an altered sense of smell. In the past year and a half, they have treated more than 1,600 patients from across the country and around the world. The treatment is not covered by insurance, costs $500 per injection and usually requires two injections.
Posted at 11:40 AM, Jan 26, 2023

BRYAN, Texas — Within the walls of this unassuming office, thousands of people are turning to the medical professionals here for hope.

"We're a pain practice, so we treat chronic pain,” said David Gaskin, a certified registered nurse anesthetist with Republic Pain Specialists in Bryan, Texas.

For more than a year now, people have traveled far and wide to treat something other than pain here a long COVID symptom called parosmia, which alters a person's sense of smell.

"It may smell like some, something dead, something rotting. Rotting flesh is what people describe it," he said.

Gaskin read about a medical journal case study out of Alaska that showed two patients found relief after getting treated with a stellate ganglion block—where pain medication was injected into a set of nerves in the neck.

A colleague suffering from parosmia asked Gaskin to try it out on him.

“Per his recollection, he was 95% cured in 5 minutes," he said.

That colleague wrote about it on a Facebook support group page, and since then, Gaskin and his colleague, CRNA Joshua Dunlap, say they've treated more than 1,600 patients from across the country and around the world.

It is not covered by insurance, costs $500 per injection, and usually requires two injections.

"It's almost like hitting the reset button on the nervous system, kind of getting them back and in check,” Dunlap said. “For a lot of folks, it's almost immediate."

That's what brought Alison Shores in from Georgia. She's suffered from parosmia since contracting COVID in the summer of 2021.

"I got this terrible garlic smell. Like everything tasted and smelled like garlic,” Shores said. “And then, it went from there to trash, to sewer, to a combination of both."

Unable to stomach much, she said she lost 25 pounds since then.

"It affects your life a lot. You know, people are like, 'Eat a cheeseburger' and I want to eat the cheeseburger! I really do,” she said, “but you can't really understand and grasp what is happening unless you're going through it."

Dr. Andrea Hebert is an assistant professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. She said, right now, it's unclear why this treatment might be working for some patients suffering from an altered sense of smell.

"My initial reaction was I thought that this sounds great," Dr. Hebert said. "It's understandable that people are looking for solutions for this problem. It is such a big impact on their quality of life, but I think we need to caution having some well-thought-out trials come out and see what the true effects of this treatment are."

Several university studies on it are currently underway, but for Alison Shores, waiting is not an option.

"I'm hoping to get relief and hope and just to get where I'm able to eat," Shores said.

Minutes after the two injections, several types of snacks were brought in for her to try, including several chips and chocolate.

"I just want all the snacks. Cheetos are so much better. I'm about to cry, but it is so much better," Shores said, looking over at Gaskin with tears in her eyes. "Oh, my gosh, come here! I want to hug you! This is amazing. Oh my gosh, I have missed these. They are so good! Thank you so much."

For Shores, the tears were of relief after a long journey in search of it.