People who lost their sense of smell after being infected with COVID-19 may not fully recover for three years, one expert believes.
Losing sense of smell, having a weakened sense of smell – or anosmia, as the condition is officially referred to as – or an abnormal sense of smell are all common symptoms of COVID-19.
For many with milder cases of the virus, it may be the most serious symptom they suffer.
Dr Carl Philpott, a professor of rhinology and olfactology at University of East Anglia, in Norwich, England, told Insider that patients with the most severe case of anosmia may be waiting years to recover due to the amount of time to retrain the senses.
A British experts predicts that it could be up to three years until all people with long term anosmia fully regain their smell
‘For the people that are getting so long-lasting distortions, there is a theory that some of these people are getting a deeper invasion into the brain of the virus,’ Philpott told Insider.
His theory is based on studies at that have looked at brains of patients who’ve passed away from Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), a cousin of the new virus.
‘But the jury’s still out on the exact mechanism that is causing this lengthy distortion,’ Philpott added.
One study found that an estimated 86 percent of people who contract the virus will temporarily lose their sense of smell.
A vast majority of people will recover their smell after only a matter of months, though.
Sophia Ankel’s (pictured) sense of smell has been ruined over the past few months after contracted COVID early in the pandemic
A study published in June found that more than 80 percent of people recovered their within the first four months.
For the small group that does not recover their smell quickly, though, how long it would take for them to fully regain their facilities is not known.
The June study found that five percent of people still had not fully recovered their smell a year later, with no timetable for their return.
One of those people in Sophia Ankel, a journalist at Insider, who wrote a first person piece about her struggles since she contracted COVID-19 in March 2020.
‘It was a completely surreal experience, even more so because, at the time, loss of sense or smell – otherwise known as anosmia – wasn’t officially recognized as a COVID-19 symptom yet,’ she wrote.
‘So when my nose started to pick up some aromas three months later, I was elated. Only this time, it wasn’t the same and hasn’t been the same since.’
She refers to her condition as ‘COVID smell’, because many aromas for her have instead been replaced by the smell of garbage and sweat.
‘When people become repulsed by food, that can become a major problem,’ Philpott told Insider.
‘Not only from a nutritional point of view where some people will definitely lose weight as a consequence of this…but it can also lead to a sense of depression and isolation.’
Experts are still unsure of what causes anosmia among COVID patients, and without knowing a cause, developing a treatment is tough as well.
Philpott does day that some smell therapy techniques – like smelling strong, pleasant, things like roses and lemons, could help people redevelop their smell.
‘The natural history shows that it probably will get better with time,’ he told Insider.
Anosmia is not the only long term condition people can develop as a response to COVID-19.
Long haul COVID’ is another condition where some people who have recovered from the virus will still feel symptoms like intense fatigue months – or potentially years – later.
The cause of the condition is unknow, making treatments also tough to develop.
The long term effects of COVID will be a long term issue for medical experts across the country, as they learn to handle the fall out of the virus that took over the world for a year.