Samantha LaLiberte has been married to her husband for eight years, but last year began to notice he had a “terrible” odour.
The smell is so bad it’s even impacted their sex life.
“There is not a whole lot of intimacy right now,” Ms LaLiberte told The New York Times. “And it’s not because we don’t want to.”
The 35-year-old has been diagnosed with parosmia, a condition that causes a distortion of previously enjoyable smells.
Ms LaLiberte first began experiencing parosmia in November, seven months after she contracted COVID-19.
She is among a worrying number of coronavirus survivors to report the bizarre long-term effect, which is taking a heavy toll on their social lives.
“I stopped going places, even to my mum’s house or to dinner with friends, because anything from food to candles smelled so terrible,” Ms LaLiberte said.
Another COVID-19 survivor, Jessica Emmett, told the Times she began experiencing parosmia after contracting the virus twice last year.
She now feels like her “breath is rancid all the time” and intimacy with her husband of 20 years is a lot less frequent.
“There is no really passionate, spontaneous kissing,” she said.
It’s not just adults who are experiencing parosmia, with an 11-year-old girl from the US state of North Carolina also now living with the condition.
Her mother Danielle Meskunas told local news station WNCT 9 that her daughter Lorelai had initially lost her sense of taste and smell after getting COVID-19 last November.
After regaining her sense of smell in January, Lorelai began complaining that things weren’t smelling “like she thought they should”.
“She was basically saying things smelled like rotten food, like something that had been sitting in the fridge,” Ms Meskunas said.
“She can’t go to the grocery store with us anymore. She could smell a shallot in the refrigerator, in a bag, in a drawer. As soon as she opened the (refrigerator) drawer she got sick.”
According to experts, experiencing parosmia is just as unpleasant as it sounds, with the University of Pennsylvania’s Dr Richard Doty telling the Times that to those who have it “a rose might smell like faeces”.
People who have parosmia report normally pleasant aromas now smelling like burnt toast, rotten meat, chemicals or cardboard.
It’s not known exactly how many people who have had COVID-19 suffer from it, however in a June 2020 survey conducted in the US, seven per cent of the more than 4000 people surveyed reported having it.
Parosmia can occur when people are recovering from a range of different viral disorders and while distressing, is rarely permanent, writes Professor Carl Philpott, an expert in rhinology and olfactology at the University of East Anglia.
“Parosmia is believed to occur due to partial recovery of the smell receptors in the top of the nose,” he wrote for The Conversation.
“Because we recognise smells as mixtures of odour molecules, if some receptors aren’t working, the pattern recognition is affected, and this leads to a distorted signal, which more often is interpreted as unpleasant (troposmia), but can sometimes be a pleasant distortion (euosmia).”
It’s believed to occur in some people who had have COVID-19 because their infection has “caused damage to the smell receptor nerves”.
Prof Philpott said that “retraining” the nose can help those suffering from parosmia overcome the condition.
“Smell training is a key activity to help overcome the problems of post-viral smell disorders,” he said.
“Not everyone finds it easy, though, so other self-help measures include other forms of nasal stimulation, such as sniffing horseradish or mustard, which activate the trigeminal nerve.”