Summary: A new study reveals worrisome consequences of COVID-19 infection: About a quarter of US patients report partial or no recovery of taste or smell. The researchers analyzed data from the National Health Interview Survey, which focuses on people who have been infected with SARS-CoV-2.
The results showed a strong correlation between the severity of COVID symptoms and the degree of sensory loss. These findings highlight the need for treatment and support for patients to cope with these long-term effects.
24% of COVID-19 patients reported only partial recovery of the sense of smell, while more than 3% did not. Similarly, 20% of patients with loss of taste due to COVID-19 recover only partially, while more than 2% do not fully recover. Sensory resilience decreases as the severity of COVID-19 symptoms increases. Source: Ears and Eyes of the People
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many patients experience loss of taste and smell during and after infection with SARS-CoV-2. A retrospective study by researchers at Massachusetts Eye and Ear, a member of the Mass General Brigham Health System, investigated loss of smell and taste and estimated that about a quarter of Americans have the condition. COVID-19 is reported as partial loss or no taste. the recuperation. or smell.
The results are published in the journal The Laryngoscope. “We wanted to quantify the national impact of COVID-induced odor disorder,” says Neil Bhattacharyya, MD, FACS. “With this data, we can understand, in large numbers, how many people lose their sense of smell or taste due to COVID infection and how many never fully recover those senses.”
The retrospective study used data from the 2021 National Health Survey (NHIS), an arm of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which included survey data from 29,696 adults. In the NHIS data, COVID patients were asked about the severity of their symptoms, their loss of taste or smell, and their ability to recover those senses.
The team reports that about 60% of survey participants infected with COVID lost their sense of smell and about 58% lost their taste. In addition, not all patients regain full sensation after recovery.
Research shows that about 72% of patients fully recover their sense of smell, but 24% only partially recover and more than 3% do not recover their sense of smell at all. Similarly, among those who lost their taste buds due to COVID, about 76% fully recovered their senses, while 20% had only partial recovery and more than 2% did not fully recover.
That represents the nearly 28 million Americans likely to have an impaired sense of smell after being infected with COVID.
Bhattacharyya said one of the driving forces behind the study was a patient he met who lost 50 pounds due to COVID-related loss of smell.
“The patient was unable to eat or drink and became very ill and very debilitated due to the loss of smell,” Bhattacharyya said. “When you hear about COVID-related loss of smell, you think most people recover and are okay. But there are a significant number of people who don’t get it back.
The study also found that there was a correlation between the severity of COVID symptoms and the loss of smell or taste. As the severity of symptoms increased, so did the proportion of patients who lost their sense of smell or taste. In addition, the ability to recover smell and taste is also reduced in the presence of more severe COVID symptoms.
The authors note that because smell and taste often work together, it is difficult for patients to self-report which senses have recovered or have not. However, there is still a large number of patients who have lost their sense of smell and taste due to sequelae of COVID.
Although the study is new due to the nationwide sample, the dataset only focused on patients treated in 2021. This means that patients before and after 2021 were not considered. and whether an individual regains their sense of smell or taste after 2021 is also not recorded. in data. In addition, the rate of loss of smell or taste due to infection with COVID variants occurring after 2021 may differ from the rates detected in this study.
Although there is currently no standard treatment for patients with impaired sense of smell and taste, the researchers note that the findings may help providers advise those with patients who have lost their sense of smell or taste due to COVID and monitor recovery rates. “The value of this study is that we highlight a group of people that have been somewhat overlooked,” says Bhattacharyya.
“Loss of smell or taste isn’t as benign as one might think. It can lead to a reduction in recreational eating and, in the most severe cases, it can lead to depression and weight loss.