As I cut a slice of lemon for my tea one morning last March, I found that I could not detect the familiar zing of citrus. Nor, it turned out, could I taste the peach jam on my toast. Overnight, my senses of smell and taste seemed to have disappeared. In the days prior to that I’d had body aches and chills, which I ascribed to a late-winter cold — nothing, I thought, an analgesic and some down time couldn’t take care of. But later that day I saw a newspaper article about the loss of smell and taste in patients with COVID-19, and I realized that I’d likely caught the virus. While I was fortunate enough to eventually recover from it without a trip to the hospital or worse, months after testing negative for COVID, my senses of both smell and taste are still not fully recovered.
In this, I know, I’m hardly alone. According to US News and World Report, 86% of patients with mild to moderate COVID-19 — over six million people, all told — reported problems with their sense of smell, while a similar percentage had changes in taste perception. (Taste and smell work together to create the perception of flavor.) This is in addition to the 13.3 million Americans diagnosed with anosmia — a medical term for the loss of smell — related to other respiratory viruses, head injuries, and other causes. For many of us, improvement has been slow.
Loss of smell affects our health and quality of life
Our senses — smell, vision, hearing, taste, and touch — are bridges that connect us to the world we live in, to life itself. Knock out two of the five bridges, and 40% of our sensory input is gone. Senses add richness and texture