Loss of smell and taste: COVID-19 effects could continue in patients for up to 6 months

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BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Throughout the pandemic, COVID-19 symptoms ranged from a dry cough to COVID Toes, but it’s possible nothing was as commonly seen and heard about as the loss of sense of smell and taste.

For a while, it was the telltale sign to be aware of it you think you might have COVID-19. For most people, this was the most difficult symptom to deal with because of the effect on one’s quality of life. Now, some patients are dealing with the loss of taste and smell long-term and doctors say studies are still being done to try and figure everything out but not too much is known.

Alexa De Lugo lives in Italy, Brittany Wallace lives in Alabama, and Deena Council lives in California. All three women are COVID-19 Long Haulers and have one major symptom in common.

“So the only symptoms I currently have right now is still like a change of taste and smell like that’s the long one,” De Lugo said.

“I still don’t fully have my smell back, but what I do have back is a little changed,” Wallace said.

“Certain things that I taste don’t taste like what they are supposed to taste, or what I know they are supposed to taste like,” said Council.

All three women reported the change in their taste or smell after they were diagnosed with COVID-19 and to this day they’re still experiencing changes in their senses. Plus, all three specifically mentioned picking up a particular odor.

“I smell this weird chemical in some foods, that I smell in cleaning products or shampoos,” said De Lugo.

Dr. Amolika Mangat with the Adventist Health Physicians Network says about 80% of COVID-19 patients suffered from loss of taste or smell in one way or another.

“While they have it this is the most common symptom it can take up to two weeks to get better and some patients can be suffering from this for up to six months,” Mangat said.

Loss of taste and smell is considered a separate diagnosis from COVID-19. Although much isn’t known about why the issue has persisted for some patients past the time they were diagnosed, it has been seen in other upper respiratory illnesses.

“There’s a lot of research that is ongoing regarding what may be the issue. Usually what we are thinking is that there’s inflammation that still may be present maybe around the receptor or the nerve endings and that may be leading to this,” said Dr. Mangat “Also, if people have other things going on such as upper respiratory infections or seasonal allergies, anything that causes inflammation in the upper airways and around your sinuses can lead to worsening of this.”

Currently, Dr. Mangat says TokTok trends like burning an orange peel doesn’t seem to be the solution. However, some doctors on TikTok believe it could help retrain the olfactory nerves in your brain and nose.

And for those not on the social media platform, there are some options like decreasing things that can cause inflammation such as getting seasonal allergies and chronic sinusitis treated. Doctors are also recommending patients stop smoking because that too can cause inflammation.

“If it’s persistent and it’s more than 6 months, then you can possibly have imaging done, a CT or MRI to make sure there is no other reason for the loss of taste or loss of sense of smell,” said Dr. Mangat. “Otherwise, some people have tried a course of steroids to decrease the inflammation and that may help, but otherwise, it’s just hydration. That really is going to be the number-one thing maintaining hydration, so that there is moisture there and the nerve endings and receptors can become active again.”

Dr. Mangat says that there was a small study done that showed those experiencing loss of taste and smell was seen in patients that had less severe COVID infections, but she says this was a small study and research still continues.

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