One third of long Covid patients suffer from persistent loss of smell

One third of long Covid patients suffer from persistent loss of smell
© iStock/Elisaveta Ivanova

According to the University of East Anglia (UEA), loss of smell is one of the most prevalent symptoms of long Covid patients.  

New research from UEA has revealed that almost a third of long Covid patients suffer persistent loss of smell. As well as this, almost one fifth of long Covid patients experience loss of taste.

Long Covid can cause a range of ailments

The researchers focused their study on the prevalence of nose and throat related symptoms linked to long Covid such as smell loss and parosmia, a condition where people experience unusual and unpleasant smell distortions. 

“Long Covid is a complex condition that develops during or after having covid, and it is classified as such when symptoms continue for more than 12 weeks. Symptoms include headache, myalgia, fatigue and loss of taste and smell. Parosmia can persist for months after initial infection, alongside brain fog and memory loss,” said lead researcher Professor Carl Philpott, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School.

“We wanted to find out more about the prevalence of long Covid, and particularly ear, nose and throat related symptoms such as smell loss and parosmia” he continued.  

The research team examined data from the UK Coronavirus Infection Survey and analysed information from over 360,000 patients in March 2022. In total, 10,431 participants said they had suffered from long Covid, Therese participants were asked about the presence of 23 individual symptoms and the impact they had on their day-to-day lives.

The researchers defined long Covid as symptoms persisting for more than four weeks after the first suspected coronavirus infection but not explained by another condition. 

“We found that almost 3% of the participants self-identified as having long Covid, and if we scale this up to reflect the UK population, it would equate to around 1.8 million people. We found that fatigue was the most common symptom, whilst ENT-related symptoms included a loss of smell and taste, vertigo, shortness of breath, wheezing and a sore throat,” explained Professor Philpott.

“Almost a third of self-reported long Covid patients were suffering persistent smell loss, and almost a fifth were still experiencing loss of taste” he added.  

Loss of smell can affect mental health

The researchers we keen to emphasise the impact loss of smell can have on people people’s lives. Previous research from UEA has shown that people who suffered from a loss of smell also report high rates of depression, anxiety, isolation and relationship difficulties.

“It can disrupt almost every aspect of life – from everyday concerns about personal hygiene to a loss of sexual intimacy and the break-down of personal relationships,” said Professor Philpott.  

Long Covid is a growing problem in the UK and we need to focus resources on supporting people with loss of smell and taste after Covid infection,” he added.  

Patients who suffered from loss of smell told the researchers they often received little information or support from doctors and sometimes resorted to spending money on unprescribed and ineffective treatments they have read about online. 

The research was supported by the charity Fifth Sense which helps people with smell and taste disorders.

“Fifth Sense is growing our engagement with health and social care professionals to help them understand the significant impact that smell dysfunction has on so many aspects of people’s lives. We want to see greater recognition across the healthcare profession as well as research into new treatments,” said Duncan Boak, CEO and founder of Fifth Sense.

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