What’s that smell? Altered sense of smell, taste in COVID patients may explain recovery
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — Imagine chocolate or toothpaste being unbearable at times.
Right now, scientists are uncovering clues to explain how those who have had the coronavirus now have distorted senses of smell or taste.
One patient who encounters that daily is here in Chattanooga.
Father Brad Whitaker came down with COVID-19 in February. He was the first known COVID-19 patient in Hamilton County after his church announced the news last spring.
Whitaker is typically the chef of his family, but now that’s more difficult.
‘For me to try and taste and smell things as I’m cooking to make sureit’s frustrating,” he said. “I completely lost sense of smell, I didn’t smell anything during those first several weeks, and then it came back, but it came back sort of muted.”
Ever since his sense of smell and taste were drastically altered, he said, now foods like chocolate taste “spoiled,” any foods with oil can taste rancid, and toothpaste or anything with mint is really intense.
“Popcorn has a really weird taste to it,” he said.
So, why is this happening? Experts from Harvard Medical School, Science Direct, and the Wall Street Journal explain part of it like this: the immune system responds by generating inflammation in the nasal cavity to fight off the COVID-19 virus. This inflammation can damage the nearby nerve cells.
The Wall Street Journal explains earlier this fall, scientists researching smell disruptions in cells of both mice and humans found further indications that smell loss is caused by the virus damaging support cells and by the body’s inflammatory response.
Experts say that this shows COVID-19 cannot directly access the brain and therefore not potentially cause strokes—like the Zika Virus could.
However, questions about the long-term effects of this smell and taste distortion still remain–and Father Whitaker has many.
“Is this particular symptom related to other symptoms people are having? Like, brain fog, or loss of the ability to recall wordsor all that,” he said.
This condition that distorts smells that leads to odd odors is called parosmia.
Doctors say the condition does indicate the sense of smell is gradually returning to normal and the body is repairing nerve damage caused by the virus.