Loss of senses lingers years later
Dear Dr. Roach: I’m an 82-year-old, very healthy woman. In February 2020, just as the COVID-19 pandemic was starting to appear in North America, I had a viral infection that was relatively mild (a bit of coughing, runny nose, itchy throat) and lasted for a few days only, although I felt tired for a bit longer. One unusual symptom was that I lost my sense of taste and smell. At that time, it was not known that COVID-19 caused this in many people, nor did we have tests to determine if I had COVID-19.
My lack of smell and taste was unusual because I had always had a very acute sense of smell. A few months later, a blood test as part of a study I was in revealed that I had not had the SARS-CoV-2 virus. When I asked why I had not recovered my chemical senses, the reply was that other viruses can cause those symptoms, too.
Almost three years in, I consulted an ENT about something else and asked about my problem. He was quite dismissive, also stating that other viruses can cause a lack of taste and smell, and told me I’d recover them eventually. I asked if after three years with no progress he still thought that was possible, and he responded in the affirmative. Do you agree with his assertion?
Answer: I cannot say for certain whether that initial infection was COVID-19 or some other virus, but during that time, the dominant infection was certainly SARS-CoV-2, and the loss of sense of smell is characteristic of the virus.
Studies on people who lost their sense of smell due to COVID show that 96% of people recovered sense of smell by eight months.
While I agree with the ENT doctor who said it was possible that your sense of smell could return, I have never seen a person who lost their sense of smell for as long as you have in those who have later recovered it.
Sensory retraining using perfumes and other strong odors has been recommended to help recovery. Some have suggested a trial of a nasal steroid such as budesonide as well. But I honestly do not think it is likely you will recover. I am very sorry.