In late April, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention added the loss of smell and taste to the list of known COVID-19 symptoms. Some experience this symptom along with others, like fever, cough, and shortness of breath; others experience it on its own. Now, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal, some who experienced the loss in senses have yet to see them return.
Much of how the virus affects those who contract it is still unknown, but according to the Wall Street Journal’s Preetika Rana, those studying it are finding that the loss of smell and taste seems to linger in some even after other symptoms have dissipated. “Doctors say it is possible some survivors may never taste or smell again,” Rana wrote.
A study published in April in the European Archives of Oto-Rhino-Laryngology found that out of 417 patients in Europe with either mild or moderate COVID-19 symptoms, 88 percent reported a loss in taste; 86 reported a loss in smell. Data showed most of those patients couldn’t smell or taste even after recovering from their other symptoms, though about a quarter of them regained the senses within two weeks of their other symptoms improving. The study also found that women were significantly more affected by the loss of smell and taste than men. Researchers concluded that more data was needed to find how long the loss of senses can last in those who did not show improvement, as well as the causes for the potential sex disparity.
The loss of smell and taste have wider-reaching impacts than just the loss of the smell of morning coffee and the taste of pizza. (Though these on their own would be fairly devastating.) The loss of taste can lead to severe weight loss when eating becomes unappealing; it can take away one’s ability to smell a gas leak, or a fire.
A study from researchers at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England found that those with taste and smell disorders also reported experiencing depression, anxiety, and isolation.
Danielle Reed, associate director of the Monell Chemical Senses Center, told the Wall Street Journal that the loss of smell and taste could possibly be the result of olfactory receptors (“that are essentially like a highway to the brain”) shutting down to keep the virus from reaching the brain. “It could be a healthy reaction to the virus. If that doesn’t work, maybe people do get sicker,” Reed said. “It might be a positive takeaway from what is obviously a devastating loss to people.”