TikTok Users Are Flicking Each Other In the Head to Regain Taste and Smell After COVID-19 — But Does It Work?

Simply poke yourself in the forehead then stick your tongue out while someone flicks you in the back of your head and...violá?

TikTok COVID taste smell trick
Photo: Getty Images

From fever and aches to labored breathing and lingering coughs, coronavirus symptoms are far from a walk in the park — and the loss of taste and smell is no exception. Over the past several months, plenty of people have taken to the internet to share their struggles about regaining their sense of smell and taste after having the virus, which has opened the door for hacks galore, including the burnt orange trick that took TikTok by storm in December.

Now, there's another taste- and smell-reviving solution that's making the rounds on the social media platform. And it's…different. (Meanwhile, a constipation antidote that requires putting your thumb in your vagina — aka "splinting" — is also going viral on the 'Tok.)

The remedy can be traced back to a video posted on Monday by TikTok user @hildsymarie. In the clip, which has earned 1.5 million likes and counting, @hildsymarie quickly shares a clip of a TV segment with a text caption that reads, "I saw a video about how to get taste and smell back and guys PLEASE stick around till the end."

From there, she jumps in front of the camera, announces that she's "getting [her] taste and smell back after two months of COVID," and starts doing some kind of chiropractic movement, in which she puts a finger on her forehead, while someone flicks her in the back of the head.

She then hops back in front of the camera with the text caption, "It seemed too good to be true..." and starts sniffing what appears to be an essential oil. Within seconds, a shocked look comes over her face as she tells someone, "Oh my gosh. I can smell! I'm not kidding!"

"But guys I am so serious…I am not reacting for views," she writes in a new caption that's then followed by another saying, "everyone who doesn't have smell needs to do this." (Related: The Potential Mental Health Effects of COVID-19 You Need to Know About)

As the post comes to an end, @hildsymarie gushes that about 15 minutes post-head flick (LOL) she can now supposedly taste raspberries. "I don't even know what to say," she writes in the final text caption. "I am shaking."

Plenty of people in the comments swore by the trick, too. "My mom hasn't had her taste or smell since Thanksgiving from COVID and she did this and it worked," one person wrote. Another shared, "Bro it actually worked." But that was not the case for everyone. "I haven't been able to smell for nine months after COVID, and it didn't work," someone else commented.

In a later TikTok, @hildsymarie encourages viewers to check out the "original" video on YouTube that explains the treatment. In the clip, which was shot by local news outlet AZ Family, chiropractor Kevin Ross, D.C., says that the manipulation works by stimulating the olfactory nerve (a nerve that's essential to your sense of smell) and taste buds. "It's literally just a flick on the back of the head," says Ross in the original TV clip. "The second part is they stick their tongue out and touch their finger to the tongue. Same thing again, flick them on the back of the head."

He continues in the video, saying he understands that the manipulation looks wonky, but adds that the goal is "just trying to get that nervous system to re-fire."

Wait, what? Is this really science? And does this home remedy actually help you regain a sense of smell and taste after recovering from COVID?

Here's the thing: There is zero scientific literature that supports being flicked in the back of the head to restore your sense of taste and smell — and that makes it clearly tricky for doctors to recommend it. "Any legitimate therapeutical intervention should have valid clinical research supporting the efficacy of the claim," says Eric Holbrook, M.D., director of rhinology at Massachusetts Eye and Ear who researches anosmia (aka loss of smell).

Tran Locke, M.D., an assistant professor of otolaryngology at Baylor College of Medicine calls the trick "interesting" but says that she has "reservations on its effectiveness at restoring post-viral smell loss." (Related: Your Sense of Smell Is Way More Important Than You Think)

Smell is a "complex process," says Dr. Locke, and it involves communication between your nose and your brain. "When smell molecules enter our nose, they stimulate olfactory nerve cells which are located high up in the nasal cavity," explains Dr. Locke. "These nerves then send signals to the brain to help us interpret what we're smelling."

If this weird COVID symptom still evades your understanding, just know that the two senses are related, she adds. "When we eat, odor from food wafts into the nose from the back of the throat and enhances what we taste, contributing to flavor," shares Dr. Locke. "It's actually flavor that disappears when we lose our sense of smell."

Because of the complexity of smell and taste, Sunthosh Sivam, M.D., an assistant professor of otolaryngology at Baylor College of Medicine says it's "highly unlikely" that getting flicked in your head would help restore your senses. "The idea that a brief vibration — flicking — to your olfactory bulbs and tongue would undo nerve damage is not supported by any evidence," he says. "Furthermore, this type of therapy is not effective with other types of nerve injury that we treat as head and neck surgeons."

What might be helpful, however, is trying something called scent training, adds Dr. Holbrook. There are a few ways to go about it but, it generally involves sniffing a strong, familiar scent such as peppermint or cinnamon while remembering how the scent should smell. Loss of taste and smell unfortunately isn't unique to COVID-19, and there are a few different, pre-pandemic studies that have suggested that people have had at least some of their smell come back after trying scent training. Why it might work is still a mystery. What doctors do know, though, is that you have to do this consistently over a period of weeks and maybe even months for any results at all. "It's like physical therapy for the nose, and like any physical therapy, it requires repetition, patience, and dedication," explains Dr. Locke.

That said, if you've lost your sense of taste and smell and you're ready to try basically anything (i.e. getting flicked in the back of the head) to start feeling normal again, Dr. Locke says there's no real harm in trying it. "However, I do recommend that patients who have smell loss for more than two weeks see their physician or an ear, nose, and throat specialist to rule out other potential causes of smell loss."

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.

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