Today is “Anosmia Awareness Day”. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, many people may have never heard of the word “anosmia”, which means the loss of sense of smell. However, given the widespread recognition of smell loss as a symptom of COVID-19 , you may hear from a friend or family member: “I lost my sense of smell from COVID-19 and it really bothers me. How long will it last?”
Anosmia has been a topic of conversation for many years. Several factors have been identified that can lead to loss of sense of smell including chronic sinus inflammation, head trauma and infections. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, anosmia has been a common topic of conversation among both patients and doctors.
A reduced sense of smell and taste has been identified as one of the earliest symptoms in people with COVID-19 and may interfere with quality of life. Olfactory nerves are structures that sense various smells and are located in the roof of the nose. Recent studies have shown that a specific protein around these nerves may allow the coronavirus to enter them, thus interfering with their ability to sense smells. Although these olfactory nerves are not directly responsible for taste, sense of smell influences how we interpret the flavor of various foods.
Aside from an academic exercise into how viruses may affect nerves, however, is the practical question that more and more patients with anosmia from COVID-19 are asking: when will my sense of smell return? A recent study of 110 patients with anosmia from COVID-19 may help to shed some light on this topic. In this study, 63% of patients had a complete return to normal sense of smell. This complete recovery occurred 1-2 weeks after the onset of their COVID-19 symptoms, on average. On the other hand, 22% of patients achieved a partial recovery of their sense of smell which typically occurred 1-3 months after the onset of their COVID-19 symptoms. Lastly, 14.5% of patients had no significant improvement in their sense of smell by 6 months following the onset of COVID-19 symptoms. When analyzing factors that may be associated with longer-term smell loss, cigarette smoking was found to be associated with worsened smell recovery.
If you have reduced sense of smell from COVID-19, there may still be hope! It appears that most patients have complete return of sense of smell within a few weeks.