- TikTok users are eating burnt oranges to bring back their taste and smell post-COVID.
- The remedy involves charring an orange over an open flame and eating the fruit hot with brown sugar.
- Doctors say this hack is not backed up by science, but scent training could help.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Loss of taste and smell is a common symptom of COVID-19, and for some people, these sensory problems can persist for months.
Some TikTokers who have temporarily lost their sense of taste and smell to the virus have made the most of it, filming taste tests and chugging alcohol (which still burns, apparently).
Others have tried to get their senses back, and one supposed fix involving a burnt orange and brown sugar has gone viral.
In a clip that had more than two million views at the time of publication, chelsiehill_ charred a whole orange on a gas stove burner, peeled off the blackened rinds, and mashed up the fruit with a couple spoonfuls of brown sugar.
Read more: The worst TikTok health trends of 2020
Like some others who tried the hack, she was able to taste after eating the hot mixture — but she wrote in the caption that the burnt orange might just be a temporary fix.
There’s no scientific evidence supporting this remedy
There’s no scientific reason why eating a burnt orange would help someone regain their sense of taste or smell, otolaryngologist Jay Piccirillo told Insider. The TikTok success stories represent a lucky few who may have already been recovering their senses before they tried the hack.
COVID anosmia, or loss of smell, is believed to be caused by damage to the structures surrounding the nerves associated with smell, Piccirillo said.
That makes regaining sense of smell — and taste, which is closely linked to smell — after COVID-19 more complicated than recovering from a common cold. While a stuffy nose can also interfere with your ability to smell, it would be easier to treat with a nasal spray or decongestant, which likely wouldn’t work for COVID-related anosmia.
“There are millions of things like that out there, particularly for conditions like COVID-related anosmia, where traditional medicine doesn’t really have an answer,” Piccirillo said. “We just don’t have medicines or treatments that work, so when you go out on the internet, you see tons of alternative treatments.”
Scent training can help rewire your brain to smell again
For those who have lost their sense of smell due to COVID-19, olfactory training (or scent training) could offer a path to healing. This form of therapy involves taking a big whiff of a strong scent like cinnamon, mint, or citrus, and concentrating on your memory of the smell.
“We think it works with neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to change,” Piccirillo told Insider. “Our brains are constantly changing as we learn and experience new things. And with COVID anosmia, in some way or another, the nerves in the olfactory system have been altered by COVID.”
By practicing “smelling” essential oils or aromatic foods, it could be possible to rewire the neural connections associated with olfaction, Piccirillo said. He’s currently working on an ongoing clinical trial of olfactory training with COVID-19 survivors at Washington University St. Louis.
“The sooner that you begin the training after the insult, the more likely the brain will have an ability to change back to the way it was,” Piccirillo said. “It’s quite possible that the brain remains plastic, or able to change, during that short time since COVID.”
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