How Could Covid-19 Cause Someone to Lose Their Sense of Smell?

A woman walks in Greenwich, south-east London, on March 24, 2020, after the British government has ordered a shutdown to slow the spread of the new corona virus.

A woman walks in Greenwich, south-east London, on March 24, 2020, after the British government has ordered a shutdown to slow the spread of the new corona virus.
Photo: AFP via Getty Images

In early March, 27-year-old Isabella was from California Rosa started having symptoms that she would have wiped out like a typical flu a few months ago.

But when her fever and dry cough lingered and the growing threat of the new coronavirus to the US was impossible to ignore, Rosa suspected she might have covid-19. Unfortunately, as many people in the United States have experienced, Rosa was told remotely by a doctor to stay at home without getting tested, as long as her symptoms did not become severe.

Although her symptoms didn’t become life-threatening, they did get weirder. About three days after her illness, Rosa suddenly realized that she could no longer smell or taste anything.

“I found out because I was drinking spoiled milk. I had no idea I couldn’t taste it. And when I smoked, I smelled nothing like perfume. I ate a lemon – no response. I’ve smelled about 50 different things and probably tried to taste around 30. Nothing, “Rosa told Gizmodo. A week later, from March 22, her sense of smell and taste remains diminished.

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Rosa isn’t the only person with a suspected or confirmed covid-19 to report a loss of smell or taste as one of their symptoms in recent weeks. While the epidemic has spread around the world, local news reports of people experiencing these conditions also have the same thing. But what about the newly discovered disease? And can these characteristic symptoms have a greater impact on how we track the disease?

There are more than a few ways to end without a sense of smell and / or taste, conditions known as anosmia and ageusia, respectively (because our sense of smell affects our taste sense so much, the two conditions are often diagnosed together). You can be born with a congenital condition. You may have a neurological condition or traumatic injury that impairs the brain’s ability to process information from the cranial nerve between the nose and the brain, known as the olfactory bulb. Or you can get a viral infection. When the latter method takes place, it is often suspended for respiratory diseases such as Covid-19. But contrary to what you might think, anosmia probably isn’t caused by a stuffy nose, nor is it usually a sign of serious brain damage, according to Canadian clinical neurologist Paul Masiowski.

“The realization is that respiratory viruses can damage the sensory receptors for odor, which are necessary for normal sense of smell. There may also be a swelling of the olfactory nerve, which can cause it to bruise or completely squeeze itself, ‘Masiowski, who is not an ear, nose and throat specialist, but has treated patients with anosmia, told Gizmodo. “It wouldn’t normally be painful. And people don’t necessarily have a particularly bad stuffy nose when nerve function is damaged. It’s normal to have a temporary sense of smell when the nose is blocked, such as with a cold. But that usually resolves when the congestion disappears. ”

Although there have been widespread reports of Covid-19-related anosmia in Germany, I ran, and now in the United States, people like Rosa have mainly gone to social media and forums Reddit to express their frustrations. That is only the last days public health experts have started to investigate the connection. Monday, World Health Organization officials said they began studying the link, warning that any evidence for the connection was preliminary.

There are many uncertainties about the relationship between Covid-19 and anosmia. An important question is whether people with the infection are more likely to develop anosmia than those who suffer from the typical flu or cold. Another is whether this complication is more serious or permanent in covid-19 patients than in people with other viral infections. Anecdotally, many Reddit commentators have said that their anosmia persists even though they are no longer sick, while others report that they have returned to normal.

“With this form of anosmia, people can significantly reduce – even lose completely – their sense of smell, and this can continue long after the stuffy nose has disappeared. Some of the anosmia may improve over time, but the fear is that a significant portion of the damage may be permanent, ‘said Masiowski.

Masiowski is not so sure that covid-19 causes more anosmia than a cold virus could cause – rather it could be the peak in cases and worldwide focus on covid-19 that prompts people to notice their symptoms and become aware of them to pronounce. But he thinks it may very well be a rudimentary beacon for the disease.

In his spare time, Masiowski has scoured Google search trends for terms such as “odor loss” in the native languages ​​of countries affected by covid-19. So far, he has found a consistent pattern where people in those countries are now looking en masse for anosmia-related terms, sometimes before it is clear that there is an outbreak there.

While the best way to follow the path of covid-19 around the world would be extensive testing (preferably with blood tests that can find antibodies to the coronavirus regardless of whether someone is currently ill) and genetic analysis of the evolutionary history of the virus, Masiowski believes that sort of the method can be used in the meantime to roughly track where and when the virus was hit. While Masiowski has no immediate plans to continue his theory, researchers have already taken advantage of it social media as a way to detect and predict the trajectory of flu seasons. If nothing else, anosmia could also be another warning sign for Covid-19 that doctors are actively screening for, a suggestion recently made by the American Academy of Otolaryngology.

The lack of initial attention given to this symptom by public health experts seems to reflect the short rush that people who develop anosmia in general get. While certainly not as dangerous as severe pneumonia, it can be a frightening and life-changing experience.

“It is really disturbing. I don’t think I value my senses as honestly as I should – it’s emotional. I love to cook, which I feel good about, and now I can’t taste anything I cook, ”Rosa said. “I feel a little depressed and I don’t think many people would consider something like this as something you are suffering.”

Masiowski’s experience of treating anosmia has made him more sympathetic to people like Rosa. Although people with the condition may regain some or all of their sense of smell, even if it lasts for years, it often cannot do much for the patients who visit it, the opportunity to treat a possible cause (such as a viral infection) is closed . He hopes these stories can encourage young or healthy people to do as much as possible to avoid getting sick.

“If you’re in your 20s or 30s and you lose your sense of smell this month to Covid-19, and you’re still 50 or 60 years old, and everything’s rotten – every meal you’ve had for the rest of your life is even worse: this has a serious impact on your quality of life. But this is a disease built around how harmless it is to young people, ” he said. “So my hope on this would be to educate people about this potential risk to them.”

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