‘I’m amazed that it worked.’ Local woman receives injection that reset her taste, smell after COVID
IDAHO FALLS — An Idaho Falls woman who suffered from distorted taste and smell after having COVID-19 wants people in similar situations to know there is help.
Pam Colling, 51, tested positive for COVID-19 in Aug. 2021. She received two rounds of Trimectin — one from her family doctor and one from an emergency room visit — as well as monoclonal antibodies from the emergency room. Colling was also put on oxygen at home.
She was sick the entire month of August but only lost her taste and smell for a few days. By September, her taste and smell returned to normal but when November came, that changed.
“We snowbird back and forth to Mesa … and when I’d go down to the hot tub at the resort we stay at, I couldn’t get in the water. The water would smell bad,” Colling recalls. “The water is the first thing that hit me bad. … (It smelt like) rotten onion.”
It wasn’t long before Colling said everything she ate — except for flour tortillas with cheese, donuts, certain candies and fruity pebbles cereal — had the same rotten onion smell. Colling estimates she gained 50 pounds during this time because her taste and smell could tolerate most sweets, but not healthy foods.
Everything from what she drank to perfume, deodorant, shampoo, body wash and jet fuel smelt like onions too. Around Thanksgiving, Colling said her coffee pot had to be taken out of her home, her family couldn’t cook inside and she was trying to avoid grocery stores because the deli and produce sections made her dry heave.
Colling discovered she had developed Parosmia. Parosmia is a type of smell disorder where odors become distorted and it’s something people can experience after having COVID-19, according to Healthline.
“I called an Ear, Nose and Throat doctor here locally when I first got it, and was like what can I do?” she explained. “They told me to do Flonase twice a day, take zinc and vitamin D. … It had no improvement.”
Colling’s daughter told her about a Facebook group called Parosmia- Post COVID Support Group with over 48,000 members in it. This is where she learned about an injection called the stellate ganglion block that’s showing it can reset a person’s taste and smell.
She came across a member of the Facebook group named David Gaskin, a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist who is double board-certified in anesthesia and pain management. He has given the injection to over 100 people suffering from Parosmia and other long haul COVID-19 symptoms. He is the owner of Republic Pain Specialists in Texas.
There was nobody in Salt Lake, Boise or Idaho Falls who had done this injection for Parosmia, according to Colling, so she went to Texas and had it done on Feb. 22.
“Typically, our body finds equilibrium. As we recover from COVID, our body recognizes we’re no longer in danger. It doesn’t need to mount this massive immune response and this sympathetic response,” Gaskin told EastIdahoNews.com. “But somewhere along the way, we get dysfunction of that autonomic system and the body is stuck thinking we’re still in danger.”
Gaskin said because of that, the body keeps mounting an immune response which mounts an inflammatory response. That kicks off the sympathetic drive and mounts more immune response.
“So we stay in this perpetual autonomic dysfunction,” he said. “When we block the stellate ganglion, we’re truly blocking any of that nerve supply to the brain and essentially, you’re breaking that cycle. When the body reboots … and tries to autoregulate again, it recognizes we’re not dying of COVID … and everything goes back to normal.”
The injection — which is also used for a variety of health conditions such as complex regional pain syndrome, shingles, PTSD, cancer pain and Raynaud’s syndrome — is made up of lidocaine and a steroid. Gaskin admits it doesn’t work for everybody and on those it does, it works in varying degrees.
The injection is given on the right side of the neck but if it doesn’t provide the improvement the patient is looking for, Gaskin suggests doing the injection on the left side too. He said the success rate is running over 90%.
“Pam got close to 100% with one injection on her right side,” Gaskin mentioned. “Not everyone will respond as well as Pam. … Neither one (right or left injection) may get them to 100% but the right side may get 60% and the left may give another 20% and they get to 80% improvement.”
Colling said the injection only took about five minutes. Afterward, she ate a Reese’s peanut butter cup and jerky stick and said it tasted normal.
“I think there’s a lot of misinformation about why people have Parosmia after COVID. Doctors are telling these women and men that … it’s nerve damage and you have to wait and let your nerves heal. It’s not nerve damage,” Gaskin stated. “If it was nerve damage my little stellate ganglion block would not restore their taste and smell in three minutes.”
Prior to the injection, Colling said Parosmia was ruining her life and she was miserable. She doesn’t want other people feeling how she did to continue to struggle.
“There is help for people and people don’t know it,” Colling said. “I’m amazed that it (the injection) worked. I couldn’t live like that (before). I was done.”
Gaskin said insurance companies still consider the injection experimental for Parosmia, so he charges $500 cash per side.