11% of coronavirus patients who lose sense of taste, smell, may suffer long term: ‘May become a chronic issue’

A side effect of COVID-19 for this millennial is no longer being able to taste his favorite food.

When Greg Shuluk, 29, contracted COVID-19 in March, he experienced mild symptoms. He felt feverish, began coughing, and lost his sense of smell and taste. The Westchester, N.Y., native says the cough went away in a month, but now, five months later, his lack of taste and smell persists.

“I can tell if something is sweet or salty, but food tastes super bland now. I can’t really taste it,” Shuluk told Fox News on Tuesday, explaining that he feels his senses are at close to 70% back. “I’m obsessed with seafood. I went and got a lobster and cooked it and could barely taste it.”

Shuluk is one of a number of former COVID-19 patients who have experienced a long-term loss of taste and smell, and doctors say it’s unclear when, or if, people like Shuluk will ever get their senses back to their pre-COVID normal.

If not being able to savor a rich sauce or fresh catch isn’t bad enough, the long-term impact of losing vital senses can take a toll on one’s mental health, too.
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Indeed, around 11% of coronavirus patients who suddenly couldn’t properly taste their food, or smell through their nose reported the symptoms lasted longer than a month, according to research published in July in JAMA Otolaryngoloy — Head & Neck Surgery.

Doctors say that most people who experience the symptoms will get their senses back within a few days, or between two and six weeks. However, there are a handful of patients whose anosmia, as it’s called, can last longer.

“There is a very small chance that this may last longer or may become a chronic issue. If this does occur, it’s best to consult with your doctor,” Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, told Fox News.

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Glatter said a number of viruses can cause a temporary loss of smell and taste, and will usually improve in a few days at least or within a week, when the virus clears. People may experience an inability to detect, identify and even savor flavors and odors.  And for those whose symptoms become more long-term, its unclear how long recovery time can be.

“We don’t know the exact timeline for recovery of taste and smell among long-haulers. We will have to monitor them for longer periods of time to better understand the role chronic inflammation plays in their symptoms and recovery,” Glatter explained.

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Doctors may conduct a number of tests on patients experiencing long-lasting symptoms of lost senses of smell and taste. Those might include asking the patient to compare different smells and observing their olfactory anatomy — i.e, the bodily structures that comprise the nose and nasal cavities — through an MRI.

If not being able to savor a rich sauce or fresh catch (like in Shuluk’s case) isn’t bad enough for foodies, the long-term impact of losing vital senses can take a toll on one’s mental health, too. A separate study published in July in the medical journal The Laryngoscope found that loss of smell associated with COVID-19 could be linked to an increased risk of anxiety and a depressed mood. Researches predicted it could be a result of the coronavirus interacting with the central nervous system.

In the study, participants filled out a questionnaire of how they felt before they developed symptoms for COVID-19. Participants also ranked how bad their symptoms were, including shortness of breath, fever and loss of smell. Researchers found that the loss of smell and taste was the most commonly associated symptom with anxiety and a depressed mood.

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The experience has become so widespread during COVID-19, a number of support groups have increasingly been catering to those who have lost their sense of taste or smell, like Abscent.org.