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'It's maddening because no one understands' | COVID-19 long-haulers experience distorted sense of smell

Parosmia makes smells that were once normal and pleasant, suddenly smell rotten and rancid.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — As more and more people recover from COVID-19, doctors are starting to see the aftermath of the virus and how it's impacting people long-term.

Patients are reporting ongoing fatigue or shortness of breath, even mental health struggles.

But some COVID-19 survivors are developing a different side effect and it stinks, literally. 

"It's horrible, it's maddening because no one understands"," Stanly County Resident COVID long-hauler, Caroline Sowards said. 

It's the lingering battle against the virus. Soward is experiencing something called parosmia. 

RELATED: 'It helped me out tremendously' | COVID-19 long hauler says vaccine got rid of lasting symptoms

"The smells... I dread dinner time," Soward said. I would say it's kind of like burning trash or spoiled meat that's cooking."

Parosmia makes smells that were once normal and pleasant, suddenly smell rotten and rancid.

"People with COVID, following COVID infection can get a change in what they're able to smell, everything smells like smoke, everything smells like barbeque," Dr. Passaretti with Atrium Health said.

Doctors say it could be caused by nerve damage from coronavirus, but they don't know how to treat it or how long it could last. 

"It really is just a waiting game, can last weeks or in rare cases even months in some people," Passaretti said. "Still definitely learning about how COVID reacts with different sense and parts of our body." 

With more recoveries, will come more research and then hopefully more answers. For now, it appears the best form of treatment is finding support. 

"Everyone's experience with COVID is so different it's isolating,"  Charlotte resident Cate Gutter said.

RELATED: Vaccines helping to alleviate COVID-19 long-hauler symptoms

Many people including, Gutter turning to Facebook support groups. 

"You kind of feel like okay I'm not the only one, I'm not going crazy, and hopefully there's light at the end of the tunnel," Gutter said. 

Other symptoms of COVID-19 long-haulers are fatigue, headache, brain fog, depression and anxiety. 

Have a relative or friend in another state and want to know when they can get vaccinated? Visit NBC News' Plan Your Vaccine site to find out about each state's vaccine rollout plan.

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