The First Thing You Should Do If You Lose Your Sense Of Taste And Smell

One early and marked indicator that you're sick with a COVID-19 infection is a loss of smell and taste. Smell is the one sense we don't consider much until we lose it. 

Scientists are still unclear about exactly how COVID-19 causes us to lose our sense of taste and smell. According to a study in Science Advances, SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the COVID-19 respiratory disease, attaches to a protein called ACE2. These proteins are often found on cells that surround the nerves responsible for detecting scents. The theory is that the virus infects these cells, which causes inflammation and damage to the nerves, impeding our ability to smell. And since the flavor of foods comes from smell, we often lose our sense of taste at the same time.

Losing your sense of smell is usually not permanent

Loss of smell, also called anosmia, is sometimes the very first sign that you may have COVID-19. If you're suddenly not detecting any scent, the first thing you should do is self-isolate and get tested for the virus as soon as possible, according to the Mayo Clinic. While smell-loss could also be a symptom of the common cold, it's usually not the very first symptom, differentiating the experience from COVID-19. Therefore, it's important to get tested right away for COVID-19, in order to reduce the risk of transmission.

While loss of smell or taste is a common symptom in earlier strains of COVID-19, no such symptom seems to be associated with the latest coronavirus variant, Omicron, according to Yale Health. Medical experts looked at reports from South Africa, one of the first countries to detect Omicron, and saw that while patients who had Omicron reported extreme fatigue, none of them reported losing their sense of taste or smell.

If you do experience smell-loss or taste-loss due to COVID-19, it usually isn't permanent. A 2021 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that 84% of patients who had lost their sense of taste and smell had recovered it within four months, and 96% had recovered it within a year.