One of the most distinctive symptoms of COVID-19, the disease that can arise from the SARS-CoV-2 virus, is loss of taste and smell. This symptom can even affect people for weeks and months after they have developed the disease. Now, new research provides some insight into why this is the case.
Originally thought to be related to damage of the olfactory nerves, the decreased or altered sense of smell is called olfactory dysfunction. However, according to the new research published this week in The Laryngoscope, loss of smell due to COVID-19 may also be because of swollen and blocked nasal passages.
“Initially, we noticed a pattern in patients with COVID-19 that they lost their sense of smell and taste. We noticed these findings could be used as an indicator of whether or not a patient had COVID-19, but we thought it had to do with the olfactory nerve,” said Dr. Anjali Bharati, an ER physician at Lenox Health Greenwich Village in New York, NY.
However, the researchers discovered that a contributing factor of the loss of smell and taste is due to the tissues instead of nerves. The good news is that cells recycle and heal much more easily than nerve damage.
“Nerve damage is a more serious thing. The question becomes ‘does it recover?’” said Bharati. “This news involves the physical makeup of the nose, like the nasal passage and the back of the throat. Nerve damage is part of the brain, which is more disconcerting than the nasal passages.”
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