TikTok Swears This Remedy Helps You Regain Taste and Smell After COVID-19 — But Is It Legit?
Loss of smell and taste has emerged as a common symptom of COVID-19. It could be due to plain old congestion from the infection; it could also be a result of the virus causing a unique inflammatory reaction inside the nose that then leads to a loss of the olfactory (aka smell) neurons, according to Vanderbilt Unversity Medical Center.
Either way, no one's really sure what helps you regain your sense of smell and taste after COVID-19. However, some TikTokkers think they may have found a solution: In a new trend on the social media platform, people who've recently been diagnosed with COVID-19 are trying a home remedy that requires you to char an orange over an open flame and eat the flesh with brown sugar to restore your sense of smell and taste. And, apparently, the remedy works. (Related: This $10 Hack Can Help You Avoid Mask-Associated Dry Eye)
"For reference, I was probably at 10% taste and this brought it to ~80%," TikTok user @madisontaylorn wrote alongside a video of her trying the remedy.
In another TikTok, user @tiktoksofiesworld said she was able to taste Dijon mustard after eating the burnt orange with brown sugar.
Not everyone has seen the same results, though. TikTok user @anniedeschamps2 shared her experience with the home remedy in a series of videos on the platform. "I don't think it worked," she says in the final clip as she eats a chocolate chip cookie.
Now, before getting into whether this home remedy is actually legit, let's get another question out of the way first: Is it even safe to prepare and eat a charred orange like this?
Ginger Hultin, M.S., R.D.N., owner of Champagne Nutrition, says eating a blackened orange isn't harmful to the body, since charred fruit doesn't appear to produce any of the harmful carcinogenic substances formed in charred meat. Plus, the remedy calls for eating only the flesh of the fruit, not the blackened skin. (Related: The Health Benefits of Oranges Go Well Beyond Vitamin C)
That said, there are some safety concerns to note when preparing the burnt orange. "What I'm most worried about is the way people are charring their orange over an open flame in their kitchen," says Hutlin. "It would be easy for neighboring items to catch fire."
As for whether this home remedy can actually help you regain your sense of smell and taste after a COVID-19 infection, experts aren't really convinced. Bozena Wrobel, M.D., an otolaryngologist (a physician trained in head and neck disorders) at Keck Medicine of USC, believes it is unlikely that the remedy reverses COVID-19–induced taste loss. "Taste loss related to COVID-19 is due to the loss of olfaction, which is your sense of smell," she explains. "Your taste buds are not affected by COVID-19." Eating a sweetened orange might be hugely stimulating for your taste buds, she explains, but it doesn't "reignite" olfaction.
So, what explains the success among TikTokkers? "Because COVID-19 smell loss eventually gets better in the majority of people, some [TikTokkers] perhaps were already recovering from their smell loss," says Dr. Wrobel. Indeed, TikTok user @tiktoksofiesworld wrote in a disclaimer on Instagram that "it could very well be a coincidence" that she was able to taste Dijon mustard after trying the burnt orange home remedy, as she made the video around two weeks after her COVID-19 symptoms started.
Plus, there's always the possibility of a placebo effect among those who believe the remedy worked for them, adds Dr. Wrobel. (Related: Placebo Effect Still Helps Pain Relief)
But all hope is not lost for those struggling to regain their sense of smell and taste after COVID-19. Your olfactory nerve, which has fibers in your brain and nose that contribute to your ability to smell (and, in turn, taste), can regenerate on its own, explains Dr. Wrobel. Not only that, but she says your brain can also be trained to restore the nerve connections responsible for interpreting smells. If you choose to see an otolaryngologist, she says, they will guide you through olfactory training to help you restore these senses.
As part of olfactory training, Dr. Wrobel recommends smelling four different essential oils for 20 to 40 seconds each, twice a day. Specifically, she suggests using rose, clove, lemon, and eucalyptus oils for this technique. (Related: The Best Essential Oils You Can Buy On Amazon)
"When you smell each oil, think intensely about the smell and recall the memories associated with it," she says. Air particles carry the scent to fibers in your nose, which then send signals through the olfactory pathway to the brain, she explains. Thinking intensely about the scent wakes up the part of the brain that holds olfactory memories, instead of letting it go into "sleep mode" from lack of use, says Dr. Wrobel. (Related: Your Sense of Smell Is Way More Important Than You Think)
"We currently don't have big studies on [this olfactory training technique's effectiveness for] COVID-19 patients," admits Dr. Wrobel. "But since the mechanism is, to some degree, similar to the smell loss from other viral infections, we are applying that technique to COVID-19 patients."
The information in this story is accurate as of press time. As updates about coronavirus COVID-19 continue to evolve, it’s possible that some information and recommendations in this story have changed since initial publication. We encourage you to check in regularly with resources such as the CDC, the WHO, and your local public health department for the most up-to-date data and recommendations.