The ‘loss-of-smell’ COVID-19 symptom probably matters more than you think – by Zme Science
COVID-19 symptom of the loss of smell and taste can lead to both physical and mental health concerns.
By now, everywhere you look, lists of COVID-19 symptoms are out there. The tell-tale symptom that stands out as a real bummer (especially for foodies) is the loss of smell and taste. What happens if you lose the two? The doors to a myriad every-day experiences slam shut. You can’t smell. You can’t taste. A big part of your life is temporarily gone.
Being unable to savor a stir-fry, though, is not the big problem here. It’s not just about not being able to smell or enjoy your favorite food, but this unusual symptom could have longer-lasting consequences, particularly in regards to mental health. Surgeons and behavioral scientists are concerned over the anxiety and depression that can accompany smell and taste disabilities because of COVID-19.
In turn, support groups for helping patients over hurdles of anxiety and depression have made themselves heard.
Groups like Fifth Sense and AbScent are helping people who have lost their sense of smell and taste, offering support for them. One person giving testimony of what it feels like without a sense of smell thought about missing the smell of newborns and fresh-cut grass, and that “gorgeous smell after the rain.”
Based in the UK, Fifth Sense carries convincing messages that losing your sense of smell is much more profound than you may think. Psychological consequences can be serious. In its deep-dive into the psychological impacts of smell loss, the site reminded its readers that smell is one of the ways we connect with the world.
“Anosmia sufferers often talk of feeling isolated and cut-off from the world around them, and experiencing a ‘blunting’ of the emotions,” the organization says.
The memory link
Dr. Eric Mair, chief of otolaryngology with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group, said research informs us that smell and taste are linked to our memories and emotions, and their loss “can lead to depressed mood and anxiety.”
Sandeep Datta, associate professor of neurobiology in the Blavatnik Institute at Harvard Medical School, said that anosmia (loss of smell) “can be devastating for the small fraction of people in whom it’s persistent.” He cautioned that we could be looking at a different public health problem if we have a growing population with a lasting loss of smell. Datta was the lead author of a study that indicated that the novel coronavirus changes the sense of smell in patients not by directly infecting neurons but by affecting the function of supporting cells. Their study appeared in Science Advances in July.
So, toss aside your disappointment over some cake. The anxiety is heightened by never knowing you might be predisposed to something deadly or harmful. What about not being able to smell something burning in your house? What about not sensing a gas leak? Or feeling unsure if you have any body odors?
Interestingly, observations about the loss of taste and smell as a symptom of COVID-19 were noticed as early as May this year, when a Vanderbilt University faculty member mentioned this symptom to colleagues. Justin Turner, associate professor of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery and medical director of Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Smell and Taste Center, said it was not uncommon for patients with viral upper respiratory infections to experience a temporary — or sometimes permanent — loss of taste or smell.” He also said, “These symptoms appear to be particularly prevalent in COVID-19.”
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