The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills, cough, congestion, or runny nose.
But COVID-19 can also result in other, less common symptoms, like a loss of taste or smell.
More than 85% of patients with mild to moderate COVID-19 reported problems with their sense of smell, and about the same number of people reported changes in their ability to taste.
While losing your sense of taste or smell can be alarming, it can be part of any respiratory illness.
The difference with COVID-19 is that the loss of taste or smell is often the first symptom people experience—and sometimes, it’s the only symptom.
Luckily, many COVID-19 patients regain their sense of taste and smell over time, but it’s still important to seek medical advice if you experience these.
If you have any COVID-19 symptoms, talk to a doctor, who can diagnose you and recommend the best ways to manage your symptoms.
In this article, I’ll explain why you lose your sense of taste with COVID-19, and what to do if your sense of taste suddenly disappears.
I’ll also explain how to regain your sense of taste. I’ll outline when you should see a doctor, and how K Health can help.
Why Do You Lose Taste With COVID-19?
If you’ve ever had a bad cold or the flu, you may have noticed that your congestion can make it hard to smell or taste.
At this point, researchers haven’t pinpointed that exact cause.
Some research suggests the loss of taste has to do with the way the virus attacks the nervous system.
When SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, enters the mucus membranes, it may attack olfactory helper cells in the nasal cavity.
These are the cells responsible for transmitting the sensation of smell from your nose to your brain.
This means, essentially, that the brain and nasal passages can’t properly communicate about smells, resulting in difficulty identifying odors.
Why people also lose their sense of taste with COVID-19 is less clear; it may be because smell and taste are so intertwined.
What to Do If Your Sense of Taste Disappears
If you lose your sense of taste or smell, and you’ve been exposed to COVID-19 or you have other COVID-19 symptoms, get tested for COVID-19.
If your test is positive, isolate until your doctor tells you it’s OK to resume school or work outside the home.
Eventually, your sense of taste and smell may return, though it might take some time (and patience).
If your loss of taste or smell isn’t related to COVID-19, talk to your doctor, who can look for other causes and recommend treatments that may help.
How to Regain Sense of Taste After COVID-19
Most people who lose their sense of taste and smell after a bout of COVID-19 eventually regain it.
Unfortunately, there’s no proven effective treatment to speed up this recovery—it often just takes time. In one study, 53 out of 54 French patients experienced a full recovery of anosmia in 28 days.
A Danish study, however, found 41% of those with taste dysfunction hadn’t regained it after six weeks.
A Google search will lead to lots of ideas for how to help regain your sense of taste after COVID-19, and it can’t hurt to try them with your doctor’s OK.
Some interesting possible treatments, such as biting into an onion or eating a charred orange, could actually help your body form new nerve pathways to recover your sense of smell and taste.
One review from 2020 suggests olfactory training, or retraining yourself to smell, worked better than methods such as steroids and acupuncture.
When to See a Doctor
If you think you may have COVID-19, get tested and try to isolate yourself until your doctor tells you it’s OK to resume normal activities.
If you’ve already had COVID-19 and your sense of taste or smell have not yet returned, talk to a healthcare provider, who can help you understand the problem and navigate the next steps.
How K Health Can Help
Download K to check your symptoms, explore conditions and treatments, and if needed, text with a doctor in minutes. K Health’s AI-powered app is HIPAA compliant and based on 20 years of clinical data.
Frequently Asked Questions
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
It’s been months since I had COVID-19; when will my smell and taste return? (2021). https://medical.mit.edu/covid-19-updates/2021/01/when-will-my-smell-and-taste-return
Symptoms of COVID-19. (2021). https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/symptoms-testing/symptoms.html
Treatment of post‐viral olfactory dysfunction: an evidence‐based review with recommendations. (2020). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7361320/