People who have lost their sense of smell after being infected with COVID-19 may only fully recover after three years, an expert believes.
Losing the sense of smell, having a weakened sense of smell — or anosmia, as the condition is officially called — or an abnormal sense of smell are all common symptoms of COVID-19.
For many with milder cases of the virus, this may be the most serious symptom they suffer from.
Dr Carl Philpott, a professor of rhinology and olfactology at the University of East Anglia, in Norwich, England, told Insider that patients with the most severe case of anosmia can wait years to recover due to the amount of time to retrain the senses.
A UK expert predicts it could take up to three years for all people with long-term anosmia to fully regain their scent geur
“For the people who get such long-lasting disruptions, there’s a theory that some of these people get a deeper invasion of the brain from the virus,” Philpott told Insider.
His theory is based on studies that looked at the brains of patients who died of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), a cousin of the new virus.
“But the jury is still out on the exact mechanism that causes this long-term deformation,” Philpott added.
One study found that an estimated 86 percent of people who contract the virus temporarily lose their sense of smell.
However, a vast majority of people will regain their scent after just a few months.
Sophia Ankel’s sense of smell (pictured) has been ruined in recent months after she contracted COVID early in the pandemic
A study published in June found that more than 80 percent of people recovered their bodies within the first four months.
However, for the small group that do not regain their scent soon, it is unknown how long it would take for them to fully regain their facilities.
The June survey found that five percent of people still hadn’t fully recovered their scent a year later, with no timetable for their return.
One of those people in Sophia Ankel, a journalist at Insider, wrote a first person piece about her struggles since she contracted COVID-19 in March 2020.
“It was a completely surreal experience, especially since loss of sense or smell – also known as anosmia – was not officially recognized as a COVID-19 symptom at the time,” she wrote.
“So when my nose started picking up some aromas three months later, I was delighted. Only this time it wasn’t the same and it hasn’t been the same since.’
She calls her condition “COVID odor” because many aromas have been replaced for her by the smell of garbage and sweat.
“If people develop an aversion to food, that can become a big problem,” Philpott told Insider.
“Not only from a nutritional point of view, which will definitely help some people lose weight… but it can also lead to a feeling of depression and isolation.”
Experts still don’t know what causes anosmia in COVID patients, and without knowing a cause, developing a treatment is also difficult.
Philpott knows that some scent therapy techniques — like strong, pleasant smelling, things like roses and lemons — can help people redevelop their scent.
“The natural history shows that it will probably get better with time,” he told Insider.
Anosmia isn’t the only long-term condition people can develop in response to COVID-19.
Long-haul COVID’ is another condition in which some people who have recovered from the virus will still feel symptoms such as intense fatigue months – or possibly years – later.
The cause of the condition is unknown, making treatments difficult to develop as well.
The long-term effects of COVID will be a long-term problem for medical experts across the country as they learn to cope with the fall of the virus that took over the world for a year.