More than a million Americans may have permanently lost their sense of smell due to Covid-19

People making a wine tasting that involves smelling the wine.

People making a wine tasting that involves smelling the wine.
Photo: Ralph Orlowski (Getty Images)

A new study Thursday aims to quantify a life-altering aftermath of covid-19: continued odor loss, also known as anosmia. The study estimates that up to 1.6 million people in the United States have experienced chronic anosmia lasting at least six months after their coronavirus infection.

Anosmia can be caused by different things, including respiratory viral infections such as covid-19. But it was necessary some time before anosmia was recognized as a clear symptom of covid-19 — one that might even be more common between mild cases. Often, this loss of odor is accompanied by a loss of taste, the two sensations being closely dependent on each other. Sometimes people may also experience parosmia or a distorted sense of smell, which can cause everyday odors to smell like garbage, sewage, or other putrid odors.

Studies have assessed that anywhere from 30% to 80% of covid-19 sufferers can develop some level of anosmia. But research has indicated that most (more than 90%) recover their sniffing sensation in as little as two weeks, possibly because of the infection. stores do not damage the olfactory nerve itself but the cells supporting it. Because so many people have contracted covid-19 in the United States, however, even a relatively rare complication such as long-term anosmia can still affect many people.

This new study, published Thursday at JAMA Otolaryngology – Head & Neck Surgery, appears to be one of the first to attempt to estimate the number of chronic covetous-related anosmia in the United States The authors were forced to study the matter after seeing many of these patients in their clinics.

“In the last two months, my colleagues and I have noticed a remarkable increase in the number of patients seeking medical attention for olfactory dysfunction.” study author Jay Piccirillo, otolaryngologist at Washington University in St. Louis. Louis and editor at JAMA Otolaryngology, told Gizmodo in an email.

Piccirillo and his team evaluated a range of cases, based on projections of the spread of covid-19, the likelihood of someone developing anosmia due to infection, and the likelihood of chronic anosmia. In the most likely scenarios, somewhere between 700,000 to 1.6 million Americans (as of August 2021) have experienced a loss or change in their sense of smell lasting more than six months as a result of covid-19 to date, they found. This tally includes those who have parosmia, although no specific numbers are available for this group. It is possible that these numbers are underestimated, the authors say, and the pandemic is not over – many more Americans may contract covid-19 in the coming months.

There are treatments that are supposed to improve a person’s chances of recovering from covid-related anosmia, such as olfactory training, and there are clinical trials ongoing now that are testing experimental treatments. But for those unlucky enough to still have trouble smelling things months down the road, the likelihood of recovery is small.

“Most cases (~ 90%) of virus-related anosmia resolve within two weeks — including covid. The prognosis for long-term olfactory dysfunction (ie> 6 months) is not good. Less than 20% can expect to recover odor after 6 months, “said Piccirillo. Ultimately, he added, about 5% of all anosmic cases will lose some or all of their sense of smell permanently.

There have been many direct and indirect effects of the pandemic, from millions of covid-19 deaths to the revival of other diseases. But persistent anosmia can be one of the clearest lifelong consequences of infection. A recent study by French researchers this month even found that anosmia may be the long-term symptom most likely associated with a laboratory-confirmed case of covid-19. Long after the pandemic has faded, many people will no longer be able to enjoy some basic pleasures of life, such as delicious food or the familiar smells of loved ones.


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