High risk of sensory loss in long COVID patients

High risk of sensory loss in long COVID  
© iStock/YakobchukOlena

New research reveals sensory loss, such as taste and smell, is significantly prevalent after 12 weeks of long COVID.  

Anglia Ruskin University researchers have found that sensory loss in people with long COVID is specifically widespread, with data illuminating that around 30% reported a decrease in smell and taste which continued 12 weeks or more after initial infection.  

Long COVID is a condition where the common COVID symptoms last longer than expected. The most common symptoms include fatigue, shortness of breath, loss of smell and muscle aches.  

What is long COVID?

Long COVID affects between 13% and 15% of people who test positive for COVID, and it is defined as symptoms lasting longer than 12 weeks post-infection. The latest data for the UK illuminates that around two million people are suffering from long COVID.  

Long COVID is still not fully understood, and studies continue to delve into the science behind this condition.  

Members of the public can prevent long COVID by getting vaccinated with all the available immunisations. It is still important to note that there is not any reliable advice on how to reduce the risk of long COVID once you are infected.  

How significant is sensory loss during long COVID?

The researchers analysed 14 separate studies that looked at the occurrence of persistent anosmia (full smell loss), hyposmia (decreased sense of smell), ageusia (loss of sense of taste), hypogeusia (reduced sense of taste), and vision and hearing related long COVID symptoms.  

The study included 4,702 people with long COVID, 31.2% reported suffering from a reduced sense of taste and 29.9% reported decreased sense of smell at least 12 weeks after being infected. Moreover, 12.2% reported a full loss of smell and 11.7% encountered full taste loss.  

Furthermore, several people reported other symptoms aside from sensory loss such as symptoms affecting the eyes or ears like tinnitus, blurred vision, and dry eyes.  

Senior author Professor Shahina Pardhan, Director of the Vision and Eye Research Institute (VERI) at ARU, said: “Persistent changes in taste and smell have manifested as symptoms of long Covid. These are generally associated with decreases in quality of life, so it is vital that we understand these changes in patients’ smell and taste to help medical professionals advise or manage patients appropriately.   

“Our results also show an elevated prevalence of persistent blurred vision and hearing-related symptoms after three months. Future research is required to understand why this is the case and so that healthcare providers can provide the right kind of care for people suffering from various sensory losses due to Covid-19.” 

Lead author Dr Mike Trott, Visiting Fellow at ARU, said: ‘‘Knowing the prevalence of changes in sensory symptoms post-Covid is essential to aiding our understanding of the pathophysiology of the disease, especially as our understanding of long Covid is in its infancy.” 



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