Some COVID-19 survivors may never regain taste or smell, doctors say

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Credit: Ognen Teofilovski/Reuters

Clinicians racing to understand the novel disease are starting to discern an unusual trend: one common symptom—the loss of smell and taste—can linger months after recovery. Doctors say it is possible some survivors may never taste or smell again.

In a study involving people with taste and smell disorders, researchers at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England, found that participants reported emotions such as anxiety, depression, isolation and an erosion of self-esteem.

Some people said their disability impaired social relationships—a mother found it difficult to bond with a baby she couldn’t smell, for example. Some lost interest in preparing food for friends; others reported losing or gaining weight, which negatively affected their health and sexual intimacy.

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One theory is that the “olfactory receptors that go to the brain—that are essentially like a highway to the brain—commit suicide so they can’t carry the virus to the brain,” said Danielle Reed, associate director of the Monell Chemical Senses Center.

“It could be a healthy reaction to the virus. If that doesn’t work, maybe people do get sicker,” she said. “It might be a positive takeaway from what is obviously a devastating loss to people.”

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