By Dr. Paul Wright, Senior Vice President and System Chair of the Nuvance Health Neuroscience Institute
Some people are reporting a lasting loss of smell after recovering from COVID-19
Some people are reporting loss of smell during and after COVID-19 infection. It is common to temporarily lose our sense of smell during an upper respiratory infection due to inflammation and congestion that blocks smell receptors. However, people with COVID-19-related loss of smell do not always have these typical accompanying symptoms.
Loss of smell related to COVID-19 also seems to differ from person to person. Some people do not experience any loss of smell. Some people experience a complete loss of smell, while others only experience a partial loss. Some people recover their sense of smell quickly after the infection resolves, while it takes weeks, months or longer for others to regain their sense of smell.
A group called Global Consortium for Chemosensory Research — made up of 630 members from 64 countries — and independent researchers are studying loss of smell related to COVID-19 to better understand the symptom and the virus.
So far, researchers have learned that COVID-19 targets and attaches to ACE-2 receptors, which are found in the muscles, nerves and nose. Although olfactory sensory neurons that allow us to smell do not contain ACE-2 receptors, the cells that surround them do. The virus can cause loss of smell in some people due to the location of ACE-2 receptors in the nose, and the virus attacking and binding to the receptors.
The degree of viral damage to the cells that surround olfactory sensory neurons and contain ACE-2 receptors may explain the different degrees of loss of smell that people experience due to COVID-19. In addition, because ACE-2 receptors are in many locations in our bodies, researchers suspect that is why there are so many different COVID-19 symptoms.
Related patient story: COVID-19 patient turns to Pulmonary Rehab for lungs
Bottom line: Researchers are still learning about COVID-19 and the long-term effects of the virus, including lingering loss of smell. An evaluation by a healthcare clinician is your next step toward recovery if you are experiencing lasting neurological symptoms such as loss of smell because of COVID-19.
Related article: What you need to know about neurological symptoms after COVID-19