Long Covid: Teacher says chocolate and coffee tastes of 'rotting rubbish and petrol'

260921 Long covid teacher

A maths teacher with 'long Covid' says she's struggled for months with side-effects which makes most of her favourite foods taste dreadful.

Ellisha Hughes was diagnosed with coronavirus in November 2020 but following a short bout of illness - which included fatigue, headaches and a burning sensation in her chest - she made what she thought was a full recovery.

However in the months that followed she started suffering with nerve damage in her nose, a condition known as parosmia, which leads to tastes and smells becoming distorted.Ellisha believes the Covid jab may have initially triggered the condition, but added that being diagnosed with the virus in the first place is the root cause.

She said onion, garlic, chocolate, eggs, meat and coffee - all things she'd thoroughly enjoyed before - now repulse her to the point where being exposed to them makes her physically sick.

"The only way I can describe the taste and smell of them are like chemicals, rotting garbage and petrol all mixed into one," she said.

"As it's something I've never experienced before it's really hard to describe it to people - but it's the most vile taste and smell you'll ever experience."

Ellisha, from Hirwaun in the Cynon Valley, said she first realised something was up with her taste and smell when she had a Nando's at home with her friends.

"It just tasted like it had gone off - but no-one else thought it had. Then over the next few weeks the parosmia just got progressively worse until I was hardly able to eat anything."

She admitted her quality of life has deteriorated substantially over the past six months, and her mental health has also taken a hit.

"When I first started showing these weird symptoms I was terrified as the GP basically told me it was all in my head, my friends and family told me I was being dramatic and I was nearing a bad breakdown," she admitted.

"The doctor initially offered me antidepressants, which I refused, and then they gave me calorie shakes just so I could have calories in my body. There was a week where I don't think I ate anything at all."

Ellisha said going to the supermarket has proved a nightmare, as everything seems to contain an ingredient she cannot stomach.

"Garlic and onion are the worst - I can't have anything with them in it. I can't even buy a packet of crisps as they have garlic or onion powder on them. I can't go to the shop and buy a ready meal or pizza - it's crazy. I have to cook everything fresh myself."

The Pen-Y-Dre High School teacher said trying to teach her classes became almost unbearable due to the different smells from the children's lunches.

"When I say unbearable, I mean me standing in front of a class full 14-year-olds crying my eyes out because the smell of their food is making me physically sick," she admitted.

"But the school has been incredibly supportive. During lunch hour they would let me leave the building and eat in my car, and all the tables would be wiped down."

Over the past few months Ellisha has only been able to stomach a few different types of food, including freshly-baked bread, cheese, plain pasta and rice, and some fruits and vegetables.

However she said she has lost a stone-and-a-half and experienced vitamin deficiency since the parosmia first arrived - and her body has struggled to adjust to her new diet.

"If I go into a Costa or a Starbucks I have to hold my breath - and I used to absolutely love coffee. I think that's why I'm tired all the time as I'm not getting my coffee fix.

"I was having terrible acid in my stomach as my body wasn't getting the nutrients it needed."

When the condition became too much, Ellisha decided to phone NHS 111 to speak to the Covid helpline who put her in contact with a charity called AbScent which helps people rediscover their loss of taste and smell.

"They were my absolute saviours as they directed me to a Facebook group where there is close to 40,000 members who are all experiencing parosmia too. It was so helpful as people were able to suggest 'safe foods' that I was able to try.

"I am slowly healing. Nobody can tell me exactly when the nerve damage will heal but average times can range from 10 months to three years. I'm praying it'll be 10 months for me.

"I currently take zinc and B12 vitamins as people in my support group say this has helped them, and I also do smell training twice a day. The smell training involves sniffing four essential oils for 30 seconds each. This is supposed to fire up the nerves in my nose to promote quicker healing. This has definitely helped as after six months I am finally starting to eat some meats again."

She said she has spoken out about her condition to show that other people with parosmia are not alone.