When COVID-19 initially struck the world, the primary symptom (a loss of taste and smell) was overlooked by many who worried about the more deadly aspects of the disease. But although we have largely moved on socially form the pandemic, many ex-patients are still dealing with muted senses of smell and taste.
To make matters worse, medical institutions offered very little insight as to when those senses may return. The more-than-annoying issue really just became a party game in many ways: oh, you still can’t taste, either?
Luckily researchers now believe they can predict a more accurate timeline for the return of those crucial senses.
A study conducted by researchers in Italy and the UK found that around 90 percent of mildly symptomatic COVID-19 patients who experienced a loss of taste or smell (or both) fully regained these senses within two years.
About eight percent of participants experienced slight improvement after two years, and the remaining two percent experienced no improvement at all. It may be important to note that all study participants caught one of the earliest versions of COVID-19; not the newer Omicron or one of the latest variants.
“The changes to smell and taste associated with COVID-19 infection and long COVID include complete loss of smell and/or taste, decreased smell and/or taste, and changes to smell and/or taste,” explained Dr. Vanessa Wu, at the University of California at Irvine (UCI) Health Post COVID-19 Recovery Service. “Patients should be reassured that recovery from smell or taste impairment may continue for many months after the onset.”
Some commonly-reported side effects of COVID-19 include meat tasting rotten, warmed up food tasting like chlorine, and other foods tasting metallic. In the early days of the pandemic, the loss of taste and smell was the primary indicator for many that they had caught the dreaded new disease.
Women generally experience longer loss of smell and taste due to COVID-19 than men
Regarding smell, the primary thinking is that the infection impacts cells in the nasal lining. “Local inflammation occurs in response to the infection, which disrupts the ability of those cells to make and/or display smell receptors inside the nose,” revealed Wu. “The cells that support the health and function of olfactory (smell) nerve cells may also be impacted.”
As for taste, Wu said that the disease likely affects the taste buds directly. “Researchers think the immune system’s inflammatory response to the infection can slow down how quickly taste buds renew and replenish.”
And interestingly enough, women tend to suffer the consequences of lost olfactory senses than men.
“We don’t know why, on average, women take longer to recover their sense of taste and/or smell after a COVID-19 infection,” stated Wu. “One theory is [they] may have better baseline smell/taste, making them more sensitive to a change.” Other theories, she added, include the influence of estrogen and greater inflammation response.
To date, no “miracle” cure for taste and smell returning has surfaced. Some specialists swear by nasal and sinus tapping, while more holistic options like acupuncture have worked for others. There seems to be agreement between both mainstream medical and holistic health communities that daily smell retraining (the usage of essential oils or other strong-smelling liquids) can have a positive effect on the timeline for return.
Luckily, no matter if you choose to to treat the symptoms or just let them run their course, the vast majority of patients will experience full recovery within two years of losing their taste and smell.