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VERIFY: What researchers say about COVID-19 and long-term loss of smell and taste

A loss of smell and taste associated with COVID-19 can last for a few weeks or longer, a Johns Hopkins University surgeon told VERIFY.

One of the early signs of COVID-19 can be a loss of taste and smell. But what if it’s not just an early symptom?

That’s what some people are wondering after a case in Utah where a man said he has experienced a loss of taste and smell for over four months after being diagnosed with COVID-19. 

The VERIFY team talked to a specialist from Johns Hopkins University to get an idea of just how long this symptom can linger after first becoming infected.

THE QUESTION

How long does loss of taste and smell last from COVID-19?

THE ANSWER

According to an Otolaryngology-Head and Neck surgeon from Johns Hopkins University, the majority of patients with COVID-19 regain these senses within the first few weeks of infection, but a significant amount of people could develop a longer loss of sense of smell. 

WHAT WE FOUND

The website of the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) explains smell disorders are usually caused by a series of conditions including sinus and other respiratory infections, which involves COVID-19. 

Dr. Nicholas Rowan, assistant professor of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, told VERIFY that loss of smell and taste can be caused by a cold, stuffy nose, congestion or when the nostrils are blocked up in some way, “as in patients with chronic sinusitis,” he explained. 

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“Five percent of the world’s population is anosmic (complete loss of smell), while 20 to 25% has some degree of smell loss. Of all patients with smell loss, post-viral smell loss is one of the most common causes. This occurs after a number of common colds. COVID-19 is unique in that it can cause loss of sense of smell without causing more typical symptoms, like a stuffy nose”, Dr. Rowan said over Zoom.

He also clarified that the sense of smell is a neurological function and when this sense is no longer working, it may be because the nerve is no longer working, and “approximately 90% of the sense of taste (as patients report it) is really the sense/experience of flavor. Much of the flavor of food is what we smell.”

His recommendation for patients who are only experiencing loss of smell and taste for an extended period of time, without other symptoms of infection, is to get tested by a specialist such as an ear, nose and throat surgeon who can determine the underlying condition and treat it accordingly.

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