Taste & Smell Loss

Loss of taste and smell is a common symptom of COVID-19. It’s not usually serious and may get better in a few weeks or months. However, some people with Post-COVID (also known as Long COVID) have reported experiencing this in the longer term. Even after recovering from COVID-19, you may still have a loss of, or change in, your sense of smell or taste.

Recovery of your sense of taste or smell can take time and you may find that foods smell or taste differently. Food may taste bland, salty, sweet or metallic. These changes may or may not last long, but they can affect your appetite and how much you eat. It can be difficult to eat when you can’t taste or smell food. This may result in reduced appetite, malnutrition and weight loss, and affect your sense of wellbeing.

Possible Causes

Respiratory viruses, such as COVID-19, can cause loss of smell due to nasal congestion or inflammation. Although the exact cause is unknown, researchers speculate that it can be due to damage to the olfactory neurons, which results in problems in the smell receptors found in the nose, leading to wrong information being sent to the brain. Several studies found that smell loss occurs when the coronavirus infects cells that support neurons in the nose. Less information is known about how the coronavirus affects taste and chemesthesis (the chemical sensitivity of the skin and mucous membranes), which have not been studied as extensively as smell.

What does it look like in everyday life?

Some people with lost senses do not return to normal right away and instead see slow improvement over a long period. Although this is a good thing, it can also have consequences. As a person regains their sense of smell, odours often register as unpleasant and different from how they remembered them, a phenomenon called “parosmia.” Some people report that everything smells bad or rancid, and studies show that the effect can last for months. This might be because the olfactory nerve cells are rewiring as they recover, leading to mixed-up messages to the brain. Other patients remain fully unable to smell for months, and it isn’t clear why. There have been studies that suggest that the coronavirus infection might have killed the olfactory sensory nerve cells.

Management

There are many things you can do to help manage and recover from the loss of smell and taste due to Post-COVID. The following are a few tips to try:

Some people with lost senses do not return to normal right away and instead see slow improvement over a long period. Although this is a good thing, it can also have consequences. As a person regains their sense of smell, odours often register as unpleasant and different from how they remembered them, a phenomenon called “parosmia.” Some people report that everything smells bad or rancid, and studies show that the effect can last for months. This might be because the olfactory nerve cells are rewiring as they recover, leading to mixed-up messages to the brain. Other patients remain fully unable to smell for months, and it isn’t clear why. There have been studies that suggest that the coronavirus infection might have killed the olfactory sensory nerve cells.
  • Eat cool or room temperature foods – food can be better tasted this way compared to hot food or drinks.
  • Take small mouthfuls of food – losing your sense of smell and taste can make you lose your appetite. Don’t give up too quickly, as you may get used to the taste.

  • Try flavours that appeal to you to ensure that you eat well.

  • Try adding strong flavours or spices to help with taste.

  • Choose low salt varieties to improve the taste of salty or bitter tastes.

  • Add sharp/tart flavoured foods and drinks, such as orange, lemon, and lime flavours, to balance very sweet tastes.
  • If food has a metallic taste, try plastic cutlery instead of metal and use glass cookware.
  • Keep trying new things – what you like can change from week to week.
  • Keep your mouth clean and healthy by brushing your teeth morning and evening.
  • Rinse your mouth with water if it feels dry or uncomfortable.
  • Consider olfactory training, or smell training, which is an easy and safe rehabilitative protocol that helps people to regain their sense of smell after an illness or injury. 

When should I speak to a
healthcare professional?

Loss of smell and taste can be unpleasant and recovering your sense of taste or smell can take time. Speak to a healthcare professional experienced in Post-COVID to discuss management and recovery strategies.