A Bad Head Cold: My Recent Covid Experience, and What I Think is Going on With Weird Fragrance Reviews on Fragrantica

Twenty days ago, I began my very first Covid-19 journey. On Sunday, November 5th, I woke up feeling super crappy. Hard to say exactly what it was, as there were no overt symptoms, other than just feeling fatigued and weird. The day before, at about noon, I had felt a slight tickle in my chest after drinking a milkshake at a diner, and had attributed the lingering sensation to the ice cream. Turns out it was the beginnings of Covid for me.

On the 6th, while at work, the symptoms manifested as a head cold. Sneezing, congestion, a sinus bonanza. I texted my girlfriend and told her I had a cold. Case closed. I plugged on at work, undeterred. I don't care about colds, even when they're bad. This wasn't going to slow me down, and if it did, it wouldn't stop me. I went to work the next day too, and felt a little worse, but still not alarmingly bad: a little shivery in the morning, which I blamed on it being really cold in my house, but otherwise normal cold symptoms, replete with stuffed head and tons of postnasal drip. 

My girlfriend reported feeling similar symptoms that same Tuesday, and by Wednesday she tested for Covid, and came up positive, which prompted her to reach out to me. I took a sick day and tested, and there it was: four years after the start of the pandemic, I was finally looking at two red lines on a rapid antigen test. Fortunately it was a short work week, and I would only miss two days, with five altogether spent resting at home. I spent that time drinking (and accidentally burning myself with) hot chicken broth, sucking on zinc lozenges, and sleeping. 

Unfortunately, I experienced the famous Covid-brand loss of taste and smell. By the 9th, both senses were completely gone, and food had absolutely no flavor. Smell was a little better off; while I couldn't really make out the true definition of anything, I could at least sense that it was there, and some things blared through clearer than others. I'll get into that in detail here, but before I do, I want to fast forward and say that as of the 20th, I tested negative, and confirmed that result with another negative result 48 hrs later. So I'm officially clear of the virus, which I'm grateful for.

My sense of smell is still recovering, and it's going to be a while. My girlfriend has a small collection of essential oils for aromatherapy, and I've been using them for scent therapy almost every day. The interesting thing about the experience is that some things are crystal clear, while others fall into a vague and muddled middle ground, and still others are nearly impossible for me to make out. Here's a short list of the stuff that I can and can't smell:

In the "Can" column:

  • Peppermint oil (Comes through almost perfectly, almost like I never had Covid)
  • Lemon oil (A touch faint but clear, and with enough nuance to enjoy the woody aspects)
  • Eucalyptus oil (Maybe the second strongest after peppermint, with hints of rosiness)
  • Lavender oil (In isolation and in a blend, lavender oil comes through muted but clear)
  • Cinnamon leaf oil (Weird smell, sort of like the spice, but greener, and pretty clear)
  • Patchouli oil (Can pick it out clearly in a complex blend, and it smells good)
  • Clove oil (This is the weakest of the lot. I can smell it, but it's quite muted and fades out)
  • Helional and metallic florals (Silver Mountain Water clones are coming in fairly well, although they're definitely muted and with attenuated longevity)
  • Rosy florals (I smell the roses in my SMW clones and in Chelsea Flowers, leading me to believe that any rose-based compositions will come through fairly clearly) 
  • "Spicy" accords (I can detect things along the Old Spice axis, but they're muted) 

 In the "Can't" column:

  • Vanilla (Only get the barest traces of it, and only when conjoined with lavender)
  • Ylang-Ylang (Not really getting that rich, tropical, sweet floral)
  • Sandalwood (Not smelling it at all)
  • Dihydromyrcenol (My GIT clones and Cool Water all smell super bitter and very wrong in the first thirty minutes of wear, although they get marginally better after that) 
  • Abstract florals (The blackcurrant aspect of some of these is strongest, while the greener elements are undetectable, and any violet-like sweetness is all sour and wrong) 

I expect that my sense of smell will take a few months to fully recover. I also expect that by this time next month, it will have made a 65-75% recovery (it stands at about fifty percent now). My sense of taste is lagging, however. While I can taste much more than two weeks ago, I'm still only getting mellow nuances of flavor, have no lingering sense of taste, and there are some aspects of "sweet" that I can't get at all, especially dark chocolate. I have no idea when that will come back, and don't care nearly as much. 

An underlying theme to my olfactory adventures has been the lack of longevity in everything I smell. Even while I'm still sniffing, my nose conks out on occasion, and has to reset before I can detect anything. Perfumes are detectable for maybe twenty or thirty minutes, and only very faintly. Nearly every perfume I've worn, even the notably powerful Bamboo by Franck Olivier, retreats to a low hum after a few minutes of wear, and a few have disappeared entirely by lunch, when I know I should still smell them. 

This led to a realization about user reviews on Fragrantica. I've been reading a lot of them lately, living vicariously through the experiences of others, all the while assuming that they're written by people with healthy and sensitive sniffers. Having Covid for the first time made me realize that the virus really does hit the olfactory nervous center, and leaves lasting damage. So where are all the complaints about what Covid has done to people? Nowhere in the reviews under any fragrance are there people who mention having lost or partially lost their sense of smell!

What I see instead are people complaining about longevity issues. I see endless reviews, sometimes one after another, of folks saying things like, "This fragrance doesn't last," and "Longevity is seriously disappointing," and "It's gone after an hour, like I never sprayed it." Instead of linking that issue to Covid, the blame is placed squarely on the fragrances. Nearly every reviewer on Fragrantica has had Covid by this point, even the long-term holdouts like me. I would estimate that there is maybe five percent of the active population that hasn't had it, and another five percent that had it, but suffered no olfactory diminution, while the vast majority has had it at least once, and experienced some change in smell.

I'm only after my first round, so what can I expect when I have Covid a second and third time, which is bound to happen in the next decade? Will I have any sense of smell left by 2034? There is the very real possibility that later in life, I may not be able to continue enjoying the lifestyle I've grown accustomed to, and if this is true for me, it must be so for countless others as well. Let's be real about this, Covid isn't going away, and the vaccines don't seem to prevent infection. The fact that so few reviewers are open and honest about how they've been impacted doesn't bode well for the state of our community. With that said, I'm going to stay positive about long-term recovery, and I think I'll be myself again by this time next year. The body is a remarkable thing. 

One comment on vaccination: I happen to believe that the vaccine protects to a small degree against major infection, for some people, but not for others. I think it worked well enough for me, but I did notice that the two boosters I got were followed by four months of weirdly intense anxiety that would well up at random times of day and night, and which sometimes would stretch on and on. It wasn't typical anxiety. It was physically intense, overpowering at times, and not linked to anything commensurately triggering. Having had this experience twice, and being someone who is familiar with how anxiety normally works, I'm uneasy about getting any further vaccines, at least until I read that there has been some significant change in how they are manufactured and administered. 

I do sincerely believe that Covid vaccines are safe for the majority of people who get them, and I think that a sizable number of people have been protected by them. In no way are my opinions based on anything but my own personal experience, and I do not discourage anyone from getting vaccinated.

*The 11/18 Note de Yuzu review was written in October. My impressions of the scent were recorded before I began experiencing Covid symptoms, and was based on my sampling of it several weeks prior to infection.