The story at a glance
- A new study has found that newer variants of COVID-19, such as omicron, are less likely to cause odor and taste loss.
- Omicron has only a 17 percent chance of odor and taste loss, compared to 44 percent for the delta and 50 percent for the alpha variant.
- Researchers are also developing an implant device that can help restore odor and taste loss.
Many Americans viewed a sudden loss of odor and taste as a clear sign of a positive COVID-19 infection, but new research suggests that may no longer be the case. As the coronavirus mutates into new variants, the likelihood of an infected person losing their sense of smell and taste seems to decrease.
Researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) analyzed a national database of more than 3.5 million cases of positive COVID-19 infections and published their results in the journal Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery. It showed that compared to the loss of odor and taste in the early stages of the pandemic in 2020, the chances have decreased significantly as new varieties have been developed.
With the omicron variant, the chances of odor and taste loss were just 17 percent, compared to 44 percent for the delta and 50 percent for the alpha variant.
According to Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the omicron variant, and its concomitant subvariants make up nearly 100 percent of all current COVID-19 cases in the United States
It can have a huge impact on healthcare providers and patients who develop a COVID-19 infection.
“This is not just about being able to enjoy a good bottle of wine again; it’s about safety and preserving your quality of life, ”said Daniel Coelho, lead author of the study and professor at the VCU School of Medicine.
“Our research shows that more than 50% of people who suffer from odor and taste loss have reported feeling depressed. Patients with odor loss also have a higher degree of dementia. Fewer people experiencing these symptoms mean that fewer people are affected by mood swings and cognitive problems. ”
The Coelho team focused on the six-week period with the highest incidence for each variant studied, comparing the number of patients diagnosed with odor and taste loss during these peak periods. The VCU estimates that about 6.3 million people reported odor loss due to a COVID-19 infection.
Most people who lost their sense of smell and taste during a COVID-19 infection eventually regain it within 60 days of recovery, according to Cleveland Clinic. Even without COVID-19, the clinic estimated that more than 1 in 10 Americans may have an odor or taste disorder.
Lack of odor and taste can put people at risk of malnutrition, dehydration and unhealthy weight loss. It can also cause people to add too much sugar or salt to their food – increasing their risk of diabetes and high blood pressure.
It can also prevent people from being able to smell fire and smoke, natural gas or harmful chemicals in the home or nearby surroundings.
This is why researchers at VCU have highlighted the impact their study may have on finding out which part of the molecular structure of the COVID-19 virus causes the olfactory system to decline, the bodily structures that serve the sense of smell.
“Unlocking what causes odor and taste loss in the first place will help us better determine how to treat it,” Coelho said.
Researchers are also investigating whether vaccination status plays a role in the reduced odor losses.
There may be hope for those still struggling with odor and taste loss, as Coelho and other researchers are develop an implant device which would restore the body’s sense of smell. It would work in the same way as specialized hearing aids, such as a cochlear implant, by using an external sensor and internal processor to detect and transmit information and stimulate relevant brain areas.
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Published in May. 10, 2022