By Velena Jones

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) – Months after her COVID diagnosis, a local woman still hasn’t regained her sense of smell. She’s now working with UC Davis to try anything and everything to get it back.

It’s a symptom that thousands of COVID patients have suffered from. While the majority of patients get back their lost sense of smell, 10% are still struggling to identify scents.

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It’s been five months since Stephanie Padden was diagnosed with COVID-19

“I would sniff and sniff and there would be absolutely nothing,” she said.

After two months of sniffing scents, she only recently has started to faintly smell fragrances. This comes after months of trying everything from vitamins to more aggressive approaches found on YouTube involving flicking the back of your head.

“I made my husband do this and he was more than happy to hit me on the back of the head,” Padden said.

Padden not only lost her smell, but it’s the reason why she can’t go back to work as an international airline pilot.

“It’s sort of terrifying and I think it produces a lot of depression not being able to smell fire, gas. I’ve burned so many things when I’m cooking. It’s worse than you can imagine,” she said.

Smell training has been a huge help and is one of the main recommendations from Padden’s doctor at UC Davis, Assistant Professor of Otolaryngology, Toby Steele. He says the best essential oils to use are rose, eucalyptus, lemon and clover.

“It is like re-learning. What we see is it is not immediate for everyone. Patients will smell train for three months, often switch the essential oils and smells,” he said.

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Steele is heading up his own research on looking for how and why some COVID-19 patients lose their smell and how to fix it.

I sat in his chair to see how it’s done. First, he stuck a large camera up my nose for an HD look inside. Then came the scratch and sniff smell test. From there, a plan is made, but he says it’s still unclear what causes long-term smell loss.

“Some of it in the acute phase is swelling. Some of it in the prolonged phase is actually nerve damage to the smell nerves as they come down into your nose,” he explained.

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He also suggests a sinus rinse with an anti-inflammatory to help the nerves in your nose, which have to specially be prescribed by a doctor.

“Potentially, starting some of these therapies early when your brain does remember what the smell of the BBQ or the garden is may be helpful,” Steele said.

As Padden continues to sniff essential oils, she is hoping one day she won’t have to guess what she is smelling.

“I wouldn’t wish this on anybody,” Padden said.

Steele says it can take up a year to regain your sense of smell for a typical patient with smell loss unassociated with COVID. It’s no telling how long symptoms could last for COVID-19 patients.

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Due to the increase in smell dysfunction patients, he hopes more therapies will be developed to help the millions of people regain their smell.

Velena Jones