Researchers studying COVID-19 have known for a while that loss of taste and smell are among the most common symptoms (except with the new Omicron variant). There are now more details about how to treat it, thanks to a few more studies.
Why does COVID-19 cause loss of taste or smell?
One possibility is that the viruses could cause damage to the cells of the olfactory Epithelium ,, which is a skin patch containing scent receptors that transform stimuli into signals for your brain. Another possibility is that the virus could disrupt the neurons responsible for sending those signals to brain. It could also directly affect the taste buds. Research also suggests that inflammation of the nose or mouth may be a trigger for taste loss.
Still, more research is being done on why some people with COVID-19 lose these senses while others don’t. This week, researchers from the DNA testing company 23andMe published a paper in Nature Genetics suggesting that those infected with the virus who possess a certain genetic locus were 11 percent more likely to lose their sense of taste or smell. They discovered that genes play an important role in the processing of smells.
How seriously does COVID affect smell and taste?
By combing a Facebook support group, medical researchers from the UK found that individuals whose smell and taste were altered due to COVID-19 experienced significant physical and psychological effects, including decreased pleasure in cooking and eating, weight fluctuations, poor emotional well-being, and difficulties with social bonding.
Although most patients recovered their sense of taste and smell in a few weeks, about 10 percent had persisting symptoms like parosmia, which can distort familiar odors for a person. Some with parosmia report that scents that normally appear sweet or pleasant can smell rotten or foul. The study authors found that people with persistent changes in taste and smell may feel like they have an invisible illness. This can lead to isolated thoughts.
If this is you, there are some ways to partially regain your enjoyment of eating. A group of food scientists from Brazil suggest that eating things that are brightly colored or crunchy can result in a more satisfying experience, due to the interplay of other senses like touch and sight.
Do smell and taste come back after COVID?
The good news is that most people will eventually regain their senses of taste and smell after the virus has passed. A team of interdisciplinary experts from Italy surveyed patients with chemosensory dysfunction (a fancy way of saying alteration or loss of the senses) a year after infection. Of the 268 respondents, almost 70 percent reported some chemosensory dysfunction while infected wit