Smell and Taste Loss After COVID: Should You Be Worried?
October 05, 2021
Since the earliest days of the pandemic, doctors treating people with COVID-19 noticed that a sudden loss of smell was a hallmark of the illness. As the vast majority of our sense of taste derives from our sense of smell, these COVID-19 patients also may have experienced a loss of taste as well.
After recovering from COVID-19, many patients fail to recover their sense of smell right away, and some may worry the situation could be permanent.
A recent study has encouraging news for these patients. The results showed that nearly all patients who lost their sense of smell after having COVID-19 regained the ability.
Details of the Study
A French research team tracked the sense of smell of 97 patients averaging about 39 years of age. All had lost their sense of smell after contracting COVID-19.
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The patients were asked about any improvements in their smelling ability at four months, eight months and then a full year after the loss of smell began. About half were also given specialized testing to gauge their ability to smell.
By the four-month mark, objective testing of 51 of the patients showed that about 84 percent had already regained a sense of smell, while six of the remaining eight patients had done so by the eight-month mark. Only two out of the 51 patients who’d been analyzed using the specialized tests had some impaired sense of smell one year after their initial diagnosis, the findings showed.
Overall, 96 percent of the patients objectively recovered by 12 months, the researchers reported.
The study was published online June 24 in JAMA Network Open.
“The good news is that the vast majority of people who get COVID will recover their smell and taste entirely or will not be affected,” says Kenneth Rodriguez, MD, Chief of Sinus and Skull Base Surgery at UH.
Effects of Losing Your Ability To Smell
For those that do lose their sense of smell for a prolonged period, there can be concerns that extend beyond the pleasure of tasting one’s food.
“A lot of people don’t realize how much they miss their sense of smell until it is gone. For example, not being unable to smell something burning can be a health hazard,” says Brian D’Anza, MD, a UH rhinologist and sinus surgeon.
Treatments To Help Regain a Sense of Smell
One type of treatment that has shown promise is smell retraining therapy. It involves exposing the patient to different strong scents for several minutes at a time for three months.
“It is a simple concept, but has shown evidence of significantly improving smell over time. I offer the therapy to all my patients,” says Courtney McAvinew, CNP, a rhinology and sinus specialist at UH.
Smell retraining therapy can be effective for many different causes of smell loss, and not just COVID.
Finding the right treatment starts with a precise diagnosis. Our board-certified ear, nose and throat (ENT) physicians have the experience and advanced diagnostic techniques to pinpoint your specific nasal, sinus or allergy condition and prescribe the right medications and treatments for fast, long-term relief. Learn more about nose, sinus and allergy treatment at UH.