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COVID: six ways long-term smell loss can affect you

Many people have been left with longer-term impairments to their sense of smell following COVID.

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Losing your sense of smell can have a range of effects. Photoroyalty/Shutterstock

Early in the pandemic, multiple studies showed that about half of people with COVID lost their sense of smell (called anosmia) at some point during the course of infection. Roughly an additional 20% to 35% experienced a clinical reduction in their ability to smell (hyposmia).

Although more recent evidence suggests omicron might not lead to smell loss as much as earlier variants, given that more than half a billion people have had at least one of the variants to date, that’s still many millions of people who have probably experienced this condition to some degree.

For most, this is only a temporary loss of function. But a sizeable portion will experience longer-term problems. Recent studies show that 12 to 18 months after the initial COVID diagnosis, 34% to 46% of people are still experiencing a clinical reduction in their sense of smell. Most of these people are, however, not aware of this.

A related issue is parosmia, where a person’s perception of odours change, often finding they become more unpleasant. Research suggests that up to 47% of people who have had COVID could be affected. As with smell loss, most people with parosmia will likely heal over time. Yet some could have longer-lasting problems.

COVID isn’t the only condition that can lead to smell loss. For example, it can also be caused by other viruses or infections, head trauma, or a range of neurodegenerative diseases. While the evidence on post-COVID smell loss is still emerging, data from other types of olfactory dysfunction gives us an idea of some of the effects that long-term smell loss can have on everyday life.

1. Food safety

People with this impairment are more likely to ingest spoiled food because it’s the smell, first and foremost, that warns us when something has gone off. This can increase the risk of food-borne illensses.


Read more: Coronavirus: loss of smell and taste reported as early symptoms of COVID-19


2. Taste

Other than the core taste sensations (sweet, salty, bitter, sour and umami), nearly all of what we experience as taste is produced by odours reaching the odour receptors in the nose via the oral-nasal passage in the back of the throat. Unfortunately, without a sense of smell, most of what you eat will have little to no taste. Remove the ability to sense odours and an apple will taste just like a potato if you close your eyes.

3. Appetite

Beyond giving us pleasure when eating, food odours also trigger our appetite. This means that when we can’t smell the aromas of dinner cooking in the oven, we’re less likely to get hungry.

A man looks at a burger.
People with smell loss are less able to taste their food. Estrada Anton/Shutterstock

4. Fluctuations in weight

The combined loss of appetite and pleasure from eating makes most people with a newly acquired smell disorder lose weight, initially. Our bodies are, however, designed to keep us alive. People with smell loss quickly begin seeking pleasure from other sensory stimuli when eating, such as texture, for instance in the crunchiness of fried food. And instead of waiting until they are hungry, many will simply eat more often. These non-conscious changes in eating behaviour often result in weight gain, which can lead to long-term heart problems and other related health issues.

5. Relationships

There are some consequences of smell loss you might not immediately think about. Take for example the fact that a person who can’t smell won’t be able to monitor their own body odour. This can be a source of self-consciousness and insecurity in social situations.

Several studies have demonstrated that a poor sense of smell is linked with a reduction in reported social interactions, number of friends and sexual enjoyment. The latter could also be related to the loss of ability to sense the scent of a partner.

6. Mental health

One-third of people seeking treatment for their smell problems report experiencing a reduction in their quality of life and general wellbeing, compared with before they were having these problems. This is likely due to a combination of the factors outlined above. People with smell dysfunction often report symptoms of depression, and it’s not uncommon that they link these to their smell problems.

Treatment options

Sadly, few treatments exist for people experiencing smell dysfunction. For virus-induced smell problems, the only treatment that has some demonstrable effect is smell training. This is a bit like physiotherapy for the nose and consists of exposure therapy, where the patient is asked to smell a range of odours for about 20 minutes, each morning and evening, over a period of two to three months. Although patients will seldom make a complete recovery, studies have shown that smell training does improve olfactory functions with time.


Read more: Four strange COVID symptoms you might not have heard about


That said, the COVID pandemic has given olfactory research a push forward, and several interesting new treatments are currently in pre-clinical trials. Within a few years, it’s possible that we will see a range of novel treatments for smell dysfunction.

In the meantime, what should you do if you think your sense of smell isn’t as it should be? You can start smell training yourself using common household odours. If you don’t see a noticeable improvement after six weeks of training, get in touch with your healthcare provider for an evaluation.

Johan N. Lundström is a faculty member of the non-profit research center the Monell Chemical Senses Center, Philadelphia, as well as a Senior advisor to the Stockholm University Brain Imaging Center and the Ear-Nose-Throat Clinic at the Karolinska University Hospital. He currently receives funding from the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation, the Swedish Research Council, the European Research Council, the National Institute of Health, the Swedish Research Council for Sustainable Development, and the Bygg-Göta Foundation.

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Spread & Containment

War, peace and security: The pandemic’s impact on women and girls in Nepal and Sri Lanka

The impacts of COVID-19 must be incorporated into women, peace and security planning in order to improve the lives of women and girls in postwar countries…

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Nepalese girls rest for observation after receiving the Moderna vaccine for COVID-19 in Kathmandu, Nepal. (AP Photo/Niranjan Shrestha)

Attention to the pandemic’s impacts on women has largely focused on the Global North, ignoring countries like Nepal and Sri Lanka, which continue to deal with prolonged effects of war. While the Nepalese Civil War concluded in 2006 and the Sri Lankan Civil War concluded in 2009, internal conflicts continue.

As scholars of gender and war, our work focuses on the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security. And our recently published paper examines COVID-19’s impacts on women and girls in Nepal and Sri Lanka, looking at policy responses and their repercussions on the women, peace and security agenda.

COVID-19 has disproportionately and negatively impacted women in part because most are the primary family caregivers and the pandemic has increased women’s caring duties.

This pattern is even more pronounced in war-affected countries where the compounding factors of war and the pandemic leave women generally more vulnerable. These nations exist at the margins of the international system and suffer from what the World Bank terms “fragility, conflict and violence.”

Women, labour and gender-based violence

Gendered labour precarity is not new to Nepal or Sri Lanka and the pandemic has only eroded women’s already poor economic prospects.

Prior to COVID-19, Tharshani (pseudonym), a Sri Lankan mother of three and head of her household, was able to make ends meet. But when the pandemic hit, lockdowns prevented Tharshani from selling the chickens she raises for market. She was forced to take loans from her neighbours and her family had to skip meals.

Some 1.7 million women in Sri Lanka work in the informal sector, where no state employment protections exist and not working means no wages. COVID-19 is exacerbating women’s struggles with poverty and forcing them to take on debilitating debts.

Although Sri Lankan men also face increased labour precarity, due to gender discrimination and sexism in the job market, women are forced into the informal sector — the jobs hardest hit by the pandemic.

Two women sit in chairs, wearing face masks
Sri Lankan women chat after getting inoculated against the coronavirus in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in August 2021. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

The pandemic has also led to women and girls facing increased gender-based violence.

In Nepal, between March 2020 and June 2021, there was an increase in cases of gender-based violence. Over 1,750 incidents were reported in the media, of which rape and sexual assault represented 82 per cent. Pandemic lockdowns also led to new vulnerabilities for women who sought out quarantine shelters — in Lamkichuha, Nepal, a woman was allegedly gang-raped at a quarantine facility.

Gender-based violence is more prevalent among women and girls of low caste in Nepal and the pandemic has made it worse. The Samata Foundation reported 90 cases of gender-based violence faced by women and girls of low caste within the first six months of the pandemic.

What’s next?

While COVID-19 recovery efforts are generally focused on preparing for future pandemics and economic recovery, the women, peace and security agenda can also address the needs of some of those most marginalized when it comes to COVID-19 recovery.

The women, peace and security agenda promotes women’s participation in peace and security matters with a focus on helping women facing violent conflict. By incorporating women’s perspectives, issues and concerns in the context of COVID-19 recovery, policies and activities can help address issues that disproportionately impact most women in war-affected countries.

These issues are: precarious gendered labor market, a surge in care work, the rising feminization of poverty and increased gender-based violence.

A girl in a face mask stares out a window
The women, peace and security agenda can help address the needs of some of those most marginalized. (AP Photo/Niranjan Shrestha)

Policies could include efforts to create living-wage jobs for women that come with state benefits, emergency funding for women heads of household (so they can avoid taking out predatory loans) and increasing the number of resources (like shelters and legal services) for women experiencing domestic gender-based violence.

The impacts of COVID-19 must be incorporated into women, peace and security planning in order to achieve the agenda’s aims of improving the lives of women and girls in postwar countries like Nepal and Sri Lanka.

Luna KC is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Research Network-Women Peace Security, McGill University. This project is funded by the Government of Canada Mobilizing Insights in Defence and Security (MINDS) program.

Crystal Whetstone does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Economics

Target Sets Sights on Holiday Season, Has Plan for High Inventory

Target said that it still expects spillover from inventory rightsizing to the tune of $200 million in the third quarter.

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Target said that it still expects spillover from inventory rightsizing to the tune of $200 million in the third quarter.

Target's  (TGT) - Get Target Corporation Report strategy is paying off as the company's stock falls on heavy volume following its earnings release. 

Normally, a profit miss as wide as Target's, 39 cents per share vs. expectations of 72 cents per share, would result in a bigger drop than Target's, but the retailer has been prepping the market for this miss all summer. 

The inventory the company built up during the height of the pandemic, as Americans shopped more from home, needs to go, and the only way get rid of the excess product is deep discounts. 

"Back in June, we announced that our team would be undertaking a bold effort to rightsize our inventory position in the categories for which demand patterns have radically changed," CEO Brian Cornell said during the company's earnings call. "While this decision had a meaningful short-term impact on our financial results, we strongly believe it was the best path forward."

Now, looking forward the company sees some overhang for the third quarter, but expects a big holiday season ahead. 

While some fear a recession and what it might do to the economy, Target is convinced that the holiday season will be strong.

Image source: John Smith/VIEWpress.

Target Aims for Holiday Season

While Target is focused on the back-to-school season currently underway, the company expects "spillover" from its inventory issues to be present during the third quarter to the tune of $200 million. 

But the company's own checks suggest that its shoppers are excited about the holiday season. 

"The one thing that seems to be very consistent is a guest and consumer who says they want to celebrate the holiday seasons so we certainly expect that they are going to be celebrating Halloween this year and actively trick or treating and hosting parties with friends and family," Cornell said.

"We know they're looking forward to Thanksgiving and they're going to look forward to celebrating the Christmas holidays and that comes down each and every week as we survey consumers and talk to our guests so that gives us great optimism for our ability to perform during these key holiday seasons"

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Not only does Target expect a strong quarter, but the company also expects favorable comps as fourth quarter headwinds from a year ago aren't present this time around. 

"Guests already have their sights set on upcoming holidays and seasonal moments in Q3 and beyond," Cornell said.

Target's Q2 Collapse

Target said adjusted earnings for the three months ending in July were pegged at 39 cents per share, down 89% from the same period last year and well shy of the Street consensus forecast of 72 cents per share.

Group revenues, Target said, rose 3.5% to $26 billion, essentially matching analysts' estimates of a $26.04 billion tally. Target said same-store sales rose 2.6%, again shy of the Refinitiv forecast of 3.2%, while operating margins fell to 1.2%, below the group's July guidance of a 2% level. 

Earlier this summer, Target cautioned that its bigger-than-expected 35% build-up in overall inventories over the first quarter would trigger price cuts, adding that deeper discounts would be needed to shift the excess goods onto a customer base that was already pulling back on discretionary spending.

Walmart  (WMT) - Get Walmart Inc. Report, Target's larger big box rival, said Tuesday that improving spending trends, as well as actions the group has taken to shift excess inventory, will ease some of the pressures it expects to face in terms of overall profits over the back half of the year.

Walmart said adjusted earnings for the three months ended in July came in at $1.77 per share, down one penny from the same period last year but well ahead of the Street consensus forecast of $1.62 per share.

Group revenues, the company said, were tabbed at $152.9 billion, an 8.4% increase from last year that topped analysts' estimates of $150.81 billion. U.S. same-store sales rose 6.5% from last year, the company said, firmly topping the Refinitiv forecast. 

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Economics

Why Is No One at Nike Working This Week?

And will the move gain broader acceptance among American employers?

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And will the move gain broader acceptance among American employers?

You go into an office, pull at the door and find that it doesn't give and nobody's there. 

It may sound like the start of the common rushing-to-the-office-on-a-Saturday nightmare but, more and more, collective time off is being embraced by employees as part of a push for a better work culture.

While professional social media platform LinkedIn  (MSFT) - Get Microsoft Corporation Report and dating app Bumble  (BMBL) - Get Bumble Inc. Report had already experimented with collective time off for workers, the corporate ripples truly began with Nike  (NKE) - Get Nike Inc. Report.

In August 2021, the activewear giant announced that it was giving the 11,000-plus employees at its Oregon headquarters the week off to "power down" and "destress" from stress brought on by the covid-19 pandemic.

"In a year (or two) unlike any other, taking time for rest and recovery is key to performing well and staying sane," Matt Marrazzos, Nike's senior manager of global marketing science, wrote to employees at the time.

Nike Is On Vacation Right Now

The experiment was, not exactly unexpectedly, very well-received — a year later, the company instituted its second annual "Well-Being Week." Both the corporate headquarters in Beaverton, Ore., and three Air Manufacturing design labs with over 1,500 employees are closed for a collective paid vacation from Aug. 15 to 19.

"We knew it would be impactful, but I was blown away by the feedback from our teammates [...]," Nike's Chief Human Resources Officer Monique Matheson wrote in a LinkedIn post.

"Because everyone was away at the same time, teammates said they could unplug – really unplug, without worrying about what was happening back at the office or getting anxiety about the emails piling up."

Shutterstock/TheStreet

Of course, the time off only applies to corporate employees. To keep the stores running and online orders fulfilled but not exacerbate the differences between blue and white collar workers, Nike gave its retail and distribution employees a week's worth of paid days off that they can use as they see fit.

Nike has tied the change to its commitment to prioritize mental health. In the last year, it launched everything from a "marathon of mental health" to a podcast that discusses how exercise can be used to manage anxiety and depression.

Rippling Through the Corporate World?

But as corporations are often criticized for turning mental health into positive PR without actually doing much for employees, the collective week off was perhaps the most significant thing the company did for workers' mental health.

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The practice of set office closures has long been common practice in many European countries. In France, not only corporate offices but even restaurants and retail stores empty out over the month of August for what is culturally considered sacred vacation time. 

But as American work culture prioritizes individual choice and "keeping business going" above all else, the practice has been seen as radical by many corporate heads and particularly small businesses that may find it more difficult to have such a prolonged drop in business. 

But in many ways, the conversations mirror some companies' resistance to remote work despite the fact that one-fourth of white-collar jobs in the U.S. are expected to be fully remote by 2023

"This is the kind of perk that makes employees want to stay," industry analyst Shep Hyken wrote in a comment for RetailWire. "And knowing they can’t completely shut the entire company down, I like the way they are compensating the distribution and retail store employees."

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