In a recent analysis of 3,699 COVID-19 patients, data showed that 96% recovered their sense of smell by 180 days after infection.
It’s now well understood that smell and taste dysfunction are common in those who’ve experienced COVID-19. Until recently, however, it was unclear how many of those patients affected would recover their loss of smell and taste — and, if so, how long it would take.
Along with 19 other physicians, Dr. Naweed Chowdhury, an otolaryngologist with the Vanderbilt Smell and Taste Center, set out to analyze a vast amount of COVID-19 data to better understand the recovery after loss of smell and taste.
“Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, smell and taste disorders tended to be overlooked by clinicians,” Chowdhury said. “During the pandemic, we didn’t know whether COVID-19-related smell and taste dysfunction was temporary or permanent, so we conducted a review of data from 3,699 patients across 18 studies to answer this question.”
The data showed that as the months progressed — from 30 days after infection to 180 days — the percentage of those who recovered their abilities to smell and taste increased. At 30, 60, 90 and 180 days, respectively, about 74 percent, 86 percent, 90 percent and 96 percent of patients self-reported smell recovery and 79 percent, 88 percent, 90 percent and 98 percent of patients self-reported taste recovery, among those who were still living.
“Women were less likely to recover their sense of smell and taste, and patients with greater initial severity of dysfunction and those with nasal congestion were less likely to recover their sense of smell,” Chowdhury said. In addition, Chowdhury noted those with a higher severity of smell dysfunction experienced a more delayed recovery.
“Before, post-viral smell and taste dysfunction was considered rare and had very limited research support. Now we hope to move faster in developing effective treatments.”
Based on the results of this analysis and on previous studies on loss of taste and smell after viral infections, Chowdhury said that recovery is possible even after many years. Therefore, he recommends that patients with COVID-19 should follow-up with their care team over the long term.
One benefit to maintaining contact with your physician: Chowdhury said that new treatments are expected. For instance, there is evidence suggesting that injections of platelet-rich plasma could be beneficial, though additional studies are needed.
“Before, post-viral smell and taste dysfunction was considered rare and had very limited research support,” Chowdhury said. “Now we hope to move faster in developing effective treatments.”
Help with loss of taste or smell
Vanderbilt Health’s Smell and Taste Center is a leading destination for people with these disorders.