COVID-19 Symptom: Loss of Taste and Smell
Written by Ada’s Medical Knowledge Team
- A loss of smell or taste is a frequent symptom of COVID-19
- You can experience a partial loss, a complete loss, or a change in taste or smell
- Treatment with olfactory exercises would be effective in regaining your sense of smell
- You can consider treatment if your sense of smell and taste aren’t returning after 2 weeks
- The loss of smell or taste can persist as a symptom of long-COVID-19
A loss of taste and smell are 2 common symptoms associated with the coronavirus. Even though the exact mechanism behind these symptoms is still unknown, scientists have indicated a few possible causes.
In most cases, the sense of smell and taste comes back within a month, although some may experience an alteration in these senses for a longer time. For those who experience a persistent loss of taste and smell after an infection with the coronavirus, several possible treatment strategies can help restore these senses.
What is the cause of loss of taste and smell?
A sudden loss of taste and smell is one of the earliest possible symptoms of an infection with the coronavirus and is estimated to be present in 53% of cases. Some may only experience a reduction in these senses, while others may experience a complete loss. 1
Besides the loss of taste or smell, COVID-19 can also cause an altered sense of taste that can be metallic, bland, sweet, or salty. Your sense of smell may also be altered. You may smell unpleasant things, such as smoke or petrol, even though they’re not actually present. 1 2
Scientists are still unsure about the exact mechanism behind this change in smell and taste, although they have some hypotheses.
Some of the possible causes for a loss of smell may be: 3
- Swelling of the inner lining of the nose due to inflammation, which obstructs the airway path of the nose. As a result of this obstruction, odors cannot reach the smell receptors.
- Temporary damage to a certain part of the olfactory tract, which may be the smell receptors or the neurological structures that pass the information along.
A loss of taste could be due to: 4
- A significant chemical correlation between the systems that register smell and taste exists.
- A higher amount of ACE2 receptors are present on the tongue. These receptors are particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus.
- The receptor cells which usually prevent taste molecules from degrading too quickly. As the coronavirus may occupy these receptor cells, the taste molecules can degrade quicker than usual, causing a loss of taste.
Is the loss of taste and smell present in all cases of COVID-19?
As there are different genetic variants (also called strains) of the coronavirus, the symptoms may be slightly different, or more or less severe, depending on the strain you’ve been infected with. Most coronavirus strains present themselves with similar symptoms, although the loss of taste and smell is less present in the Omicron variant. 5
How long does loss of taste and smell last?
A loss of taste or smell caused by COVID-19 usually lasts about 8 days, although some cases last longer. Some people may also get their sense of smell or taste back earlier. About 70% of all people that experienced a loss of taste or smell recovered within the first 30 days after infection. Others may need additional treatment and monitoring. You can currently be considered for treatment if your symptoms persist for more than 2 weeks. 3 6
What else can cause a loss of taste and smell?
A loss of taste and smell is not always due to COVID-19. You can also experience a loss of smell with common illnesses such as: 7
- A common cold
- The flu
- An infection of your sinuses called sinusitis
- Allergies (check more about Allergy vs. COVID-19 Symptoms)
- Nasal polyps
Common conditions can also cause a loss of taste or can occur as a side-effect of certain treatments. Some possible causes include: 8
- Dental diseases
- Antimicrobial or anti-hypertensive therapy (e.g., ACE-inhibitors)
- Chemotherapy or radiotherapy to the head and neck
- Dental procedures
- Middle ear surgery
- Bell’s palsy
What is the appropriate treatment for loss of taste and smell?
In most cases, the loss of taste or smell returns on its own. If this symptom persists for over 2 weeks, therapy might be considered. The loss of taste or smell can be treated by olfactory training. This is a procedure that many rhinologists compare to physical therapy for the nose. The use of steroids has been suggested, although further research is required. 3
COVID-19 can cause a loss of taste and smell at the early stage of the infection. A couple of plausible mechanisms could cause these symptoms, such as an obstruction of the nose, damage to the cells, or the coronavirus that occupies receptor cells that normally receive information on taste or smell.
Most people get their sense of smell and taste back after some time, but there are cases where these symptoms persist long after the infection with COVID. Luckily, treatment with olfactory exercises has proven effective in regaining your ability to smell. Studies also suggest treatment methods with steroids, although further research is still required.
Q: Is loss of taste and smell a symptom of COVID?
A: Yes, loss of taste and smell, also known as anosmia and ageusia, is a common symptom of COVID-19. Studies have shown that many people with COVID-19 experience a loss of taste and smell, often without other symptoms such as fever, cough, or difficulty breathing. In some cases, anosmia may be the only symptom of COVID-19, particularly in mild cases or asymptomatic individuals.
Q: When does loss of taste and smell occur with COVID-19?
A: While loss of taste and smell can occur at any stage of COVID-19 infection, it’s commonly reported as one of the early symptoms. In general, the median time from the onset of symptoms to the development of loss of smell and taste is 2-3 days in COVID-19 patients.
Q: What day does loss of smell happen with COVID?
A: Loss of smell can occur at any stage of COVID-19 infection. However, it has been reported to be one of the early symptoms in many cases. Generally, the median time from the onset of symptoms to the development of anosmia (loss of smell) is 2-3 days. However, the timing and severity of symptoms can vary widely among individuals and may not be consistent with the general trend.
Q: How long do you lose your taste with COVID?
A: The duration of your loss of taste and smell can vary depending on the severity of the infection and individual immune response. In general, the median time of loss of taste and smell was found to be 8 days in mild cases and 21 days in severe cases. Some individuals may experience a prolonged loss of taste and smell, which can persist for weeks or even months after the other symptoms have resolved.
Q: Why does COVID-19 cause loss of taste and smell?
A: The exact reason behind a loss of taste and smell due to COVID-19 is still unclear, but it may be due to damage to the olfactory cells, a swelling of the inner lining of the nose which causes an obstruction, or because the coronavirus occupies certain receptor cells.
Q: Does omicron cause loss of taste and smell?
A: Omicron may cause a loss of taste and smell, although these symptoms occur less frequently than with other coronavirus strains.
Q: How can I get my sense of smell and taste back?
A: The recovery of the sense of smell and taste after COVID-19 can vary; in some cases, the senses may return to normal without any intervention. However, some steps to help regain your sense of smell and taste include smell training, maintaining good oral hygiene, staying hydrated, and being patient, as it may take several weeks or even months.
CDC (2022). Symptoms of COVID-19. Accessed on 15 August 2022.
NHS (2022). Long COVID: loss of smell or taste. Accessed on 15 August 2022.
Najafloo R. et al. (2021). Mechanism of anosmia caused by symptoms of COVID-19 and emerging treatments. Accessed on 15 August 2022.
Vaira L. et al. (2020). Potential pathogenesis of ageusia in COVID-19 patients. Accessed on 15 August 2022.
Vihta K. et al. (2022). Omicron-associated changes in SARS-CoV-2 symptoms in the United Kingdom. Accessed on 15 August 2022.
CDC (2020). Symptom Duration and Risk Factors for Delayed Return to Usual Health Among Outpatients with COVID-19 in a Multistate Health Care Systems Network — United States, March–June 2020. Accessed on 15 August 2022.
NHS (2020). https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/lost-or-changed-sense-smell/. Accessed on 15 August 2022.
BMJ (2022). Assessment of taste disorders. Accessed on 9 September 2022.