How loss of smell and taste due to Covid is different from common cold symptoms

Prashasti Awasthi Mumbai | Updated on August 20, 2020

Study published in Rhinology indicates Covid impact on the central nervous system

According to a study published in the journal Rhinology, the experience of loss of smell and taste in coronavirus is different from what one experiences during common cold and viral infection.

Scientists noted that the main difference is that in the case of coronavirus, people can breathe freely, may not have running or blocked nose, and their taste buds remain non-functional.

Lead author Carl Philpott, from the University of East Anglia in the UK, said in the study: “The loss of smell and taste is a prominent symptom of Covid-19; however, it is also a common symptom of having a bad cold. We wanted to find out exactly what differentiates Covid-19 smell loss with the kind of smell loss you might have with a cold and blocked-up nose.”

Impact on nervous system

The team of researchers conducted smell and taste tests on ten Covid-19 patients and 10 non-Covid patients.

“We know that Covid-19 behaves differently to other respiratory viruses, for example by causing the body’s immune system to over-react, known as a cytokine storm, and by affecting the nervous system,” Philpott said.

“So, we suspected that patterns of smell loss would differ between the two groups,” he noted.

The researchers found that smell loss was much more profound in the Covid-19 patents. The loss of true taste seemed to be present in Covid-19 patients, where they were unable to recognise bitter or sweet tastes.

“This is very exciting because it means that smell and taste tests could be used to discriminate between Covid-19 patients and people with a regular cold or flu,” the study authors wrote.

The profound loss of taste and smell could mean that Covid-19 affects the brain’s central nervous system.

There are also similarities with SARS, which has also been reported to enter the brain, possibly via smell receptors in the nose.

“Our results reflect, at least to some extent, a specific involvement at the level of the central nervous system in some Covid-19 patients,” the authors wrote.

Published on August 20, 2020

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