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Younger COVID-19 patients more likely to recover smell, taste, study finds

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Younger COVID-19 patients more likely to recover smell, taste, study finds
Researchers say people under 40 who have had COVID-19 generally recover their senses of smell and taste within six months. File Photo by Debbie Hill/UPI | License Photo

Oct. 5 (UPI) -- People under age 40 who lose their sense of smell and taste due to COVID-19 are more likely to recover them than older adults, a study published Tuesday by the American Journal of Otolaryngology found.

In all, four out of five survivors of the disease recover these senses within six months, the data showed.

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"We did see about an 80% recovery rate in a six-month period or longer," study co-author Dr. Evan Reiter said in a press release.

"However, 20% is still a lot of people, given the millions that have been afflicted with COVID-19," said Reiter, professor and vice chair of otolaryngology at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine in Richmond.

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Loss of sense of smell and taste is considered a hallmark symptom of the virus, according to researchers.

People who experience these sensory declines for longer periods also may be at increased risk for severe illness, studies have found.

For this study, which is part of the ongoing COVID-19 smell and taste loss survey project at VCU, Reiter and his colleagues questioned 798 adults age 18 years and older who tested positive for the virus and reported sensory declines as a result.

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Based on their findings regarding lingering loss of sense of smell and taste, given that there have been more than 230 million cases of COVID-19 worldwide, more than 20 million people could be without these senses for longer than six months, according to the researchers.

In previous survey results, published in April, 43% of participants reported feeling depressed and 56% reported decreased enjoyment of life while experiencing loss of smell or taste, the researchers said.

The most common quality-of-life concern was reduced enjoyment of food, with 87% of respondents indicating it was an issue, according to the researchers.

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An inability to smell smoke was the most common safety risk, reported by 45% of those surveyed, they said.

For survey respondents who report lingering losses of sense of smell and taste, loss of appetite poses health challenges for 55%, and 37% report unintentional weight loss, the data showed.

In addition, the symptoms COVID-19 survivors experience and what pre-existing conditions they have play a role in their recovery, the researchers said.

Those with a history of head injury were less likely to recover their sense of smell, while those with nasal congestion had a higher likelihood of smell recovery, according to the researchers.

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For those looking for solutions for smell loss, smell training, or aromatherapy, using essential oils, may help, they said.

"Increased likelihood of recovering smell in subjects with nasal congestion stands to reason simply because you can lose your sense of smell because you're badly congested and odors can't get into your nose," Reiter said.

"Certainly a subset of those people who are congested might have just lost their sense of smell because they were badly congested, rather than because of nerve damage due to the virus, as in other cases," he said.

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