Research highlights lack of support for taste and smell loss patients

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People who have lost their sense of smell are not getting the support they need from the healthcare system, new research has suggested.

A study by Newcastle University, University of East Anglia, and charity Fifth Sense, has revealed that there is a lack of understanding and care from GPs and specialists regarding smell and taste loss in patients.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the issue of taste and smell loss has been particularly highlighted as they are common symptoms of the virus.

For the study, researchers surveyed over 600 patients who has lost their smell. The findings demonstrated the difficulties that people with smell and taste disorders experience in accessing treatment. The team said that identifying these barriers is vital to help people have better access to healthcare.

The research has been published in the journal Clinical Otolaryngology,

More resources needed

Dr Stephen Ball, from Newcastle University’s Faculty of Medical Sciences, who led the study, said: “This research highlights that a greater focus needs to be dedicated to patients with smell or taste loss.

“When you contrast the healthcare services funded and available for people with loss of other senses – such as vision or hearing – the differences are vast. Our results show this exists for patients through both primary and secondary care.

“More attention and resources need to be provided for this group of patients that has increased significantly following the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The survey results showed poor levels of understanding from many GPs and consultants (both in neurology and ear, nose, and throat departments) about the impact of smell and taste disorders on patients.

Over 60% of patients reported suffering from anxiety or depression since their smell loss, and almost all of the patients (98%) said their quality of life has been affected.

Only around 20% of patients reported that that they had experienced an improvement in their symptoms following treatment.

Professor Carl Philpott, from the University of East Anglia’s Norwich Medical School, said: “Before the pandemic, smell disorders affected around 5% of the population. But the huge rise in smell loss caused by COVID-19 has created an unprecedented worldwide demand for treatment.

“Smell disorders cause people to lose their sense of smell or change the way they perceive odours. Some people perceive smells that aren’t there at all.

“There are many causes for smell loss – from infections and injury to neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s and as a side effect of some medications.

“Our research shows that there is an unmet need for smell loss patients in accessing healthcare and a clear need to improve training within healthcare to remove the barriers faced.”

Quality of life impacted

This research was conducted prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, but it identifies many areas that were consistent across multiple experiences. Further issues reported included repeated ineffective treatments, difficulties getting referrals for further care, and an average personal cost of £421 for seeking advice and treatment.

Duncan Boak, Founder and Chair of Fifth Sense, a charity for people affected by smell and taste disorders, said: “Smell disorders can have a huge impact on people’s quality of life in many ways.

“An important part of Fifth Sense’s work is giving our beneficiaries a voice and the opportunity to change the way society understands smell and taste disorders, whether through volunteering or participating in research studies like this one.

“The results of this study will be a big help in our ongoing work to improve the lives of those affected.”


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