Woman With COVID Symptom That Makes Food Taste Awful Shares Potential Cure

Jessica Hickson got COVID in February 2021 and her life hasn't been the same since—and it may never be.

Hickson, 30, of the St. Louis area, has parosmia. It is described by the National Institutes of Health as "a change in the normal perception of odors, such as when the smell of something familiar is distorted, or when something that normally smells pleasant now smells foul."

She told Newsweek that when she first got COVID-19 over a year ago, she only lost her smell for a week or so. Then, about two months later "everything started tasting the same but it didn't taste bad; it was just very bland."

Things became worse six months after that, though, she said, when food became malodorous. She first noticed it with meat, which she said smelled like "rotting roadkill." Then, bread and chocolate became inedible due to tasting like "chemicals." She said even if food wasn't directly in front of her, it still made her sick from the other side of the room.

Her diet became one strictly based on eating a handful of the same foods, including buttered noodles, cheese, cake and candy.

It soon started taking a toll on her physical and mental health. She said she became so extremely malnourished that she went to her doctor to have a blood panel drawn—and even her doctor looked at her like she "was crazy."

"I think a lot of people dealing with this condition are dealing with the COVID long hauler symptoms," Hickson said, saying depression accompanied normal post-COVID symptoms. "A lot of people don't realize it but everything we do in our lives revolves around food."

She was referring to family dinners, holidays, date nights and nights out with friends. It went beyond food to "distorted" smells of body soaps, body wash and toothpaste. Even her husband smelled like "roadkill" to her, impacting their marriage due to the lack of intimacy.

covid symptom treatment parosmia potential cure
Jessica Hickson, 30, of the St. Louis area, traveled to Texas for a treatment for her parosmia, a long lasting COVID symptom that makes food taste "rotten." Here, she's undergoing the procedure. Jessica Haskin

"You feel like everyone thinks you're overreacting," she said, adding that her husband was originally skeptical until she gagged while he cooked. Now, he is supportive and helps her look for remedies.

One of those remedies involved looking into a procedure called a stellate ganglion block. The Cleveland Clinic characterizes the stellate ganglion as part of the sympathetic nervous system located in a person's neck, on either side of their voice box.

A study published in December 2021 in the Journal of Neuroimmunology found that the stellate ganglion block reduces symptoms of long COVID.

Hickson reached out to David Gaskin, a certified registered nurse anesthetist board-certified in nonsurgical pain management, at Republic Pain Specialists in Bryan, Texas.

She even raised over $2,000 for the procedure through a GoFundMe.

Gaskin told Newsweek that the first injection took place in 1930 and is now typically used to control pain or minimize PTSD.

He said that long COVID patients don't just suffer from parosmia, but also insomnia, headaches, constant cough, fatigue, palpitations and racing hearts, shortness of breath, and GI disturbances like diarrhea and abdominal cramping—"all signs of autonomic dysfunction."

When patients like Hickson come in, Gaskin has them lay on their backs and look away while an ultrasound helps guide the medication in real-time to the right area, where the stellate ganglion exists. He then ejects a lidocaine-steroid solution.

"We're shutting it down, momentarily, for 15-20 minutes and when it comes back and starts spiraling again, the body is always seeking equilibrium and homeostasis," Gaskin said.

He said has performed this specific procedure on about 200 long-haul COVID patients, with an 85-90 percent success rate. Unfortunately, Hickson was not one of them.

She said the procedure worked initially right when she had it done, testing it with a chocolate bar that "tasted a little rotten" but was still more appetizing than her past year's experiences. She also had Cheetos, which she said tasted "normal."

After becoming emotional due to the return of her appetite, it only lasted an hour or two before reverting back to normal. When she went back in for the second session, there was no change.

"Honestly, I got to the point beforehand just accepting that I'm gonna have to live like this forever," she said, admitting the procedure provided some hope, albeit momentary. "I felt like it was my last option, my last resort, if it didn't work. When it didn't work, that's kind of where my mind went."

Since her trip to Texas, she has purchased smell training kits online containing essential oils. She hasn't noticed a difference, at least not yet. She's also joined a parosmia post-COVID Facebook group where others like her share their stories and potential remedies.

"I try to put it into perspective for people," she said. "When people try to encourage me to eat new foods or it's just a matter of being picky, I say to pretend a rotting raccoon is sitting in front of you. That's exactly what it's like for us...People aren't talking about it so people aren't aware of it."

Gaskin said his intuition makes him believe that those like Hickson who do not benefit from the stellate ganglion block "already have some sort of underlying PTSD, anxiety, depression that are feeding that sympathetic nervous system."

For those he has helped, he realizes how terrible parosmia is and how it's negatively affecting so many lives.

"The people are coming in and they're just physically spent, they're malnourished, they've lost 100 pounds in three months or six months," he said. "They're not getting sleep, their bowels are jacked up. It's like their lives are twisted upside down.

"They have tried supplements, online hacks, doctors, they're down to three safe foods," he continued. "When it flips and changes and smell and taste return, they weep and weep. It's just really gratifying to have the skills to do something that gives life back. It's a real special thing for me."