You had COVID-19, managed to finally rid yourself of the nagging cough but you still can't taste your favorite spicy noodles, no matter how much hot sauce you use. Losing your sense of taste after COVID-19 is common, and many people find that their taste slowly returns over time. If you're still struggling, though, doctors tell Bustle that some therapies can help get your sense of taste back post-COVID.
"Both taste and smell rely on chemical receptors in the mouth and nose that react with molecules in their environment and then transmit through a complex neural network to the brain," Dr. Kathleen Jordan M.D., a doctor at medical provider Tia Health, tells Bustle. A lot of people, she says, experience problems with these senses when they have a cold, because the inflammation in their nose and throat interferes with taste. "The sense of taste or smell recovers once the inflammation and cold improves, but this effect on smell seems to be more pronounced in COVID-19," she says. A roundup of studies published in Clinical Microbiology & Infection in 2021 found that ageusia, the technical term for loss of taste, occurs in between 30 to 70% of all COVID patients.
So what can you do about it? Number one: wait. In a study of 200 COVID patients published in Clinical Microbiology & Infection in 2021, 73% recovered their sense of taste within six weeks of treatment. If you really hate doing without your ability to savor cookies, though, there are other options.
"Nasal steroid sprays and systemic steroids may be helpful but should be used with the recommendation of a physician," Dr. Omid Mehdizadeh M.D., otolaryngologist at Providence Saint John's Health Center, tells Bustle. Steroids have been shown to help post-viral taste loss for viruses other than COVID-19, but there are no studies yet to show whether they could be helpful specifically for Covid.
Another option is olfactory training. You may have seen people trying to "shock" their sense of taste and smell back by eating burned oranges on TikTok, and there's a kernel of scientific evidence to that trend. "Olfactory training involves repeated and deliberate sniffing of odorants such as lemon, cloves, and eucalyptus," Dr. Jordan says. It's been found to help some people recover their sense of smell over time, but it's not a matter of breaking out your essential oils. Scent training needs to be conducted by a medical professional.
Because taste loss is so common with COVID, doctors tell Bustle, a lot of potential therapies have been suggested. Dr. Jordan says intranasal sodium citrate, a product of citric acid, has shown some promise; a study in Clinical Otolaryngology in 2017 found a sodium citrate nasal spray helped some people who'd lost their ability to taste after viruses. Nasal sprays with vitamin A and omega-3 supplements are also being explored. "They may act through neuroregenerative or anti-inflammatory means to help with recovery." Omega-3 fats are notoriously good for brain health and were recommended as a potential treatment for COVID-induced taste loss by the British Medical Journal in 2020. Vitamin A nasal sprays helped post-viral smell and taste loss in a study published in European archives of oto-rhino-laryngology in 2017.
"Our sense of smell, with its contribution to taste and our appreciation of flavor, help us enjoy food and our environment and lead to a sense of well-being and happiness," Dr. Jordan says. She predicts that a lot of research might focus on this symptom and how to cure it. For now, if your taste still refuses to come back, it could be a good plan to talk to your doctor about scent training and nasal sprays.
Dr. Kathleen Jordan M.D.
Dr. Omid Mehdizadeh M.D.
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