Many COVID-19 patients lost their sense of smell. Will they get it back?

While scientists work to unravel the basic biology of the nose, some patients are finding positive effects from smell training.

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A health worker administers an olfactory test to monitor smell loss to a resident in the Altos de San Lorenzo neighborhood near the city of La Plata, Argentina, on May 24, 2020.

In early March, Peter Quagge began experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, such as chills and a low-grade fever. As he cut pieces of raw chicken to cook for dinner one night, he noticed he couldn’t smell the meat. “Must be really fresh,” he remembers thinking. But the next morning he couldn’t smell the Dial soap in the shower or the bleach he used to clean the house. “It sounds crazy, but I thought the bleach had gone bad,” he says. When Quagge stuck his head into the bottle and took a long whiff, the bleach burned his eyes and nose, but he couldn’t smell a thing.

The inability to smell, or anosmia, has emerged as a common symptom of COVID-19. Quagge was diagnosed with COVID-19, though he was not tested, since tests were not widely available at the time. He sought anosmia treatment with multiple specialists and still has not fully recovered his sense of smell.

Case reports suggest that anywhere between 34 and 98 percent of hospitalized patients with COVID-19 will experience anosmia. One study found that COVID-19 patients are 27 times more likely than others to lose their sense of smell, making anosmia a better predictor of the illness than fever.

For most COVID-19 patients who suffer anosmia, the sense returns within a few weeks, and doctors don’t yet know if the virus causes long-term smell loss. While not being able to smell may sound like a small side effect, the results can be devastating. The sense is intricately tied...

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