This Unusual COVID Symptom May Never Go Away, Doctors Warn

by DailyHealthPost Editorial

When talking about Covid-19, we got used to only discussing the death statistics. And that’s understandable, given that this is the most horrifying consequence of the disease.

But we shouldn’t forget about the long-term health consequences in many of the survivors. Given that we’re just now finishing the first year of the pandemic, all we can do is speculate on what the long-term effects of the disease are going to be. Joint pain? Fatigue? Shortness of breath? Depression and headaches? There are even persistent dermatologic symptoms such as hair loss and rashes that seem to linger on.

But the most persistent, and at the same time seemingly absurd symptoms is the loss of taste and smell. Scientists became aware of these neurological symptoms pretty early on but a lot of the inner workings of the disease that lead to these symptoms are still unclear. A recent study published in the Journal of Internal Medicine (JIM) indicates that as many as 86% of patients with mild Covid-19 cases (i.e. with no need for hospitalization) experience a loss of their sense of taste or smell. 


Some recovery…

And while this is a stunningly large percentage, a lot of these 86% report recovering their sense of taste and smell eventually. But it varied a lot from patient to patient. A much earlier study from April 2020 published by the European Archives of Oto-Rhino-Laryngology determined that the loss of smell and taste is one of the more long-lasting symptoms of Covid-19 and it often lingers on weeks and months after most other symptoms have subsided. 

According to the JIM study, over 15% of Covid-19 patients continue to experience a loss of smell and taste even two months (60 days) after contracting the disease. After 4 more months or at the half-year mark, 4.7% of Covid-19 patients still report a complete lack of taste and smell. And while even 6 months still isn’t enough to call these lingering symptoms “permanent,” 5% is a scarily high percentage. 

According to Harvard’s neurological expert Leo Newhouse, “Some of us might never regain our sense of smell or taste at all.” Granted, Newhouse notes, it’s likely that for many, these senses will return eventually. But even then, there’s a high chance that they won’t return “the same.”

“The good news is that olfactory neurons are capable of regeneration,” Newhouse writes. “The bad news is that not everyone will return to his or her pre-COVID level of functioning.”

So what does this all mean?

Are some of us doomed to live out our lives with no sense of taste and smell whatsoever as if we’re in some weird dystopian movie with Ewan McGregor? Well, hopefully, it won’t be as dramatic but it seems likely that some people won’t ever regain these senses. 

The University of Alabama at Birmingham assistant professor Jessica Grayson, MD, points out that “patients with post-viral smell loss have roughly a 60 to 80 percent chance of regaining some of their smell function at one year.”


And what makes this even more unfortunate is that such a sensory loss can often lead to increased symptoms of depression according to a 2016 study published in Chemical Senses. “Patients with olfactory dysfunction have symptoms of depression that worsen with severity of smell loss.”

Chemosensory scientist Pamela Dalton, PhD, adds that when we lose some of our senses like that “we’ve scooped out a whole piece of our consciousness that we didn’t even realize we were using every day.”

Still, it may just be too early to tell. We are still in the early stages of dealing with this disease – many of the symptoms we view as detrimental may fade away over time just like there may be some long-term effects scientists haven’t even noticed yet.