Loss of taste, smell may be linked to COVID-19

Global study begins to research possible link, survey patients

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – News 6 recently checked up with a 27-year-old Orange County man still recovering from the coronavirus.

[RELATED: 27-year-old Orange County man continues to recover from coronavirus]

He's not alone.

While physicians warn fever and shortness of breath are the most obvious signs of the virus, recent reports show many patients are experiencing a loss of taste and smell. There have been several hypotheses about the link between sensory impairment and the coronavirus.

“One is that the virus is using the sensory cells in the nose that are responding to odors to enter the brain and affect brain function. We don’t know if that’s the case, but it’s a possibility. Another is that the virus attacks those sensory nerve cells themselves, the ones that detect odors, and either disrupts their function or kills them,” Dr. Steven Munger said.

Munger, director of the University of Florida Center for Smell and Taste, is one of more than 400 sensory experts from around the world studying this potential link. It's part of the Global Consortium of Chemosensory Researchers study.

"I think it's a scary time and it's a new disease we don't fully understand so I think we reach for what can give us clues as to how to address, understand and how to treat it and this is one symptom that has caught fire in that way," said Dr. Munger.

Dr. Munger says you can self-evaluate your sense of taste and smell by using household items. For example, you can take sugar or salt and put it into a cup of water and stir. If you can’t taste that sense of saltiness or sweetness, you may have some type of taste impairment. To test your sense of smell you can use a fragrance lotion or mild spice. If you can’t smell the fragrance, Dr. Munger said it doesn’t automatically mean you have the coronavirus.

“It certainly is a possibility. A number of medical societies are currently recommending is that if you are to experience smell loss or taste loss you should consider self-isolating and call your physician immediately,” Dr. Munger said.

Dr. Munger said research even shows some asymptomatic COVID-19 patients reported some degree of loss of smell or taste.

“Some people recover quickly in days or weeks, for some people it takes longer. Unfortunately, there are a few people that never get a full recovery. We aren’t completely sure why that exists.”

Sense of Smell and Taste Survey

The Global Consortium of Chemosensory Researchers has come up with a survey to help learn more about the connection between the senses and the coronavirus. Dr. Munger said this research will also help the millions already suffering from the loss of taste and smell due to other health problems.

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