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

People conduct a wine tasting, which involves sniffing the wine.

People conduct a wine tasting, which involves sniffing the wine.
Photography: Ralph Orlowski (Getty Images)

A new survey on Thursday aims to quantify a a life-changing consequence of covid-19: prolonged odor loss, also known as anosmia. The study estimates that up to 1.6 million people in the U.S. experienced chronic anosmia that lasted for at least six months after coronavirus infection.

Anosmia can be caused by a variety of 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 – as it might be more often among the milder cases. Often this loss of smell is accompanied by a loss of taste, with the two senses closely dependent on each other. Sometimes people can also experience parosmia, or a distorted sense of smell that can cause everyday odors to stink of garbage, sewage, or other rotten odors.

Studies have estimated that 30% to 80% of Covid-19 patients may develop some level of anosmia. But research has shown that the majority (more than 90%) regain the feeling of sniffing in just two weeks, probably due to an infection does not weigh to damage the olfactory nerve itself, but also the cells that support it. However, with so many people suffering from covid-19 in the U.S., even a relatively rare complication like prolonged anosmia can still affect many people.

This new study, published Thursday in JAMA Otorhinolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery, seems to be one of the first to try to measure the proportion of chronic anosmia associated with covid in the US The authors were forced to study the problem after seeing many of these patients in their clinics.

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

Piccirillo and his team assessed a number of cases, based on projections of the spread of Covid-19, the chances of someone developing anosmia from infection and the likelihood of chronic anosmia. In the most likely scenarios, between 700,000 and 1.6 million Americans (as of August 2021) have so far experienced a loss or change in sense of smell that lasted more than six months as a result of Covid-19. This number 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 could be infected with Covid-19 in the coming months.

There are treatments that are thought to improve a person’s chances of recovering from covid-related anosmia, such as odor training, and there are clinical trials which are ongoing and testing experimental treatments. But for those who have enough accidents to still have trouble smelling things months later, the chances of recovery are slim.

“Most cases (~ 90%) of virus-related anosmia disappear within two weeks – including covid. The prognosis for long-term olfactory dysfunction (i.e.> 6 months) is not good. Less than 20% can expect to regain odor after 6 months, ”Piccirillo said. Eventually, he added, about 5% of all cases of anosmia will permanently lose part or all of their sense of smell.

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

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Naveen Kumar

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