She lost her sense of smell and taste due to COVID-19 symptoms but an innovative treatment 'changed her life.'
Jennifer Henderson, a COVID-19 patient for the past two years, had been suffering from parosmia and dysgeusia, conditions where the senses of smell and taste are grossly distorted or lost.
Despite her other symptoms improving within a week of contracting COVID-19, her sense of taste and smell had deteriorated further. She said, "Most food tasted like garbage, and I couldn't smell anything. I dreaded eating." However, Henderson's life changed when she joined an online support group and learned about stellate ganglion block (SGB) injections, used to improve the sense of taste and smell in longtime COVID patients. After discovering that the treatment was being offered at the Cleveland Clinic, she quickly made an appointment.
In December 2022, Henderson received her first SGB injection from the procedure led by Dr. Christina Shin, per People. After the treatment, She was given a hot cup of coffee and Henderson started to cry as she could finally smell and taste the drink. She continued to receive two more rounds of injections and her sense of taste and smell improved even more. She told USA TODAY, "I was scared. I was afraid to smell the coffee. I just couldn't contain it because I was so happy. The fact that I could smell it immediately, I just broke down."
Shin expressed that witnessing her patient's emotional response was a humbling experience. She said, "I don't think any of us were not crying. Just seeing how much of a journey this has been for her, how much it has changed her life."
Shin has been conducting SGB injections in long COVID patients since she read a study from the National Library of Medicine about successes with the procedure last year. "Since April 2022, we've had success when treating some of our patients for their altered taste and smell," she told the Cleveland Clinic.
Shin explained that the injection works by using ultrasound to guide the needle into the patient's neck and temporarily blocking neuronal activity at the stellate ganglion. "There is a connection between our nervous system and immune system. Some propose patients with long COVID are suffering from persistent overactivation of the sympathetic nervous system or inflammation of their nervous system. By injecting the local anesthetic, we may be disrupting this abnormal feedback loop," she explained.
She also noted that while patients respond differently to the treatment, for many, the effects seem to be long-lasting and life-changing. "Patients respond differently and some don't at all. But for many, the effects seem to be long-lasting and life-changing," Shin said.
Henderson's success story is inspiring to many other long COVID patients who are experiencing the same loss of smell and taste. The treatment offers hope to those who have been struggling with these debilitating symptoms for a long time.
According to Henderson, the process was stressful and caused anxiety. She also mentioned that she lost her mother to COVID and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. She expressed her desire for researchers to obtain the necessary information to assist more individuals with the injections. She said, "I just hope this really spearheads getting so many others treatment."