Have you lost your taste or smell after COVID-19? Scientists, medical experts closer to learning why

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — One of the side effects people are experiencing after catching COVID-19 is losing their sense of smell and taste.

Action News Jax Courtney Cole explains what scientists are learning about why some people lose these senses — and how their findings could help lead to a solution.

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“I don’t want to say it was scary, but it was really different. And I was like, ‘Oh! I hope it comes back!’”

David Blouin is one of the hundreds of thousands of people who lost their smell and taste after getting the COVID-19 virus.

Blouin is the Campus Pastor at Impact Church of Jacksonville.

“It happened right in between my two shots for Pfizer,” Blouin explained.

When he’s not on stage or in the community helping others to build or strengthen their relationship with God, he said he enjoys a good meal — that is what made this experience tough for him.

Blouin said just within a week, he lost his smell and about 90% of his taste.

“I love spicy, Cajun-style food. And it was hard! I really missed that taste!” exclaimed Blouin.

The 63-year-old said it took about a month for his taste and smell return.

There are others who lost their taste and smell that haven’t been as lucky.

Now, scientists and medical experts are learning more about why this happens — and why everyone doesn’t experience this side effect.

Cole took her questions about this to Dr. Chirag Patel, the assistant chief medical officer at UF Health Jacksonville.

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He explained that there are a few different reasons why your taste and smell would be affected by COVID-19 that are currently being considered and researched:

“The first thing is, you have damaged the skin cells in your nose that contain the small receptors that send a message to into your brain for processing,” Dr. Patel said.

He continued with a second reason, explaining that viruses can also affect the parts of the nerve that send those signals to your brain.

“The third thing is: viruses can then affect your taste buds on your tongue, directly. Remember, smell and taste go hand-in-hand. One does not come without the other. So, when you taste something, your nose has a lot to do with it as well. The virus can directly affect those taste buds right on your tongue.”

Dr. Patel said the fourth reason is that viruses can also cause inflammation in your nose and mouth, “which makes it harder for your receptor cells in your nose to mouth to recognize the smell and the taste of whatever it is that you’re being exposed to.”

And the last reason Dr. Patel explained has to do with the amount of mucus a virus causes your body to create.

“The virus can cause you to make so much mucus, you can actually block those receptors (that send a message to your brain). So, the smell or the taste can’t actually get exposed onto those receptors because you have a layer of mucus that’s blocking them,” Dr. Patel said.

A study was also published on Monday in the Journal of Nature Genetics that explains a genetic risk factor associated with the reason you could lose your smell or taste after a COVID-19 infection.

“And the reason why I study like this is valuable is because it shows that — for a large portion of people who get COVID, who lose their loss of taste or smell — there is a specific instruction written on a specific gene, on a specific chromosome in a lot of people who are affected like this,” Dr. Patel said.

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The assistant chief medical officer said this means there is potentially something that can be done to affect the instruction on that gene to bring you taste or smell back faster or more fully.

“It’s a very uncomfortable thing to lose things that you’ve had your whole life. It would be great if we didn’t have to lose them.”

Dr. Patel told Action News Jax said there could be possible treatment options for your loss of smell and taste, depending on what causes it.

He suggests working directly with your doctor to learn about the options you may have.