Sunday, August 16, 2020

Why do we lose our sense of smell with viruses like coronavirus?


We've all had colds or the flu, with the annoying symptom of losing the sense of smell and taste. But why does this happen?

There are different stages in a viral infection, in the acute one (where the onset of the disease is at its peak) a patient may experience nasal congestion and blockage caused by nasal obstruction.

This temporary loss of taste and smell gets better as people recover from the viral infection.

However, 1% of the patients have persistent loss of smell and taste. Studies have shown that residual viral processes affect the protein secreting glands, which causes persistent loss of these senses.

Scientists don't know the dynamics of this viral process yet, but it is estimated to affect as many as 3 million people yearly in the U.S.

The coronavirus pandemic opened new subjects of investigation about viruses and how they affect the senses of smell and taste. 

A recent study associates post viral olfactory loss to other cranial neuropathies. Viruses affect various nerves in our cranium, many of which control hearing and smell, as well as facial motion.

It comes down to an inflammatory process that affects the nerves.  In the case of COVID 19, smell loss is an early sign of the disease, it could be the only one. 

The pandemic has also forced doctors to re-evaluate the treatment of olfactory dysfunction patients because the usual prescription of steroids is harmful if it is COVID 19. 

If you experience loss of smell, seek medical attention promptly, and get tested for COVID 19, in different circumstances you could have any respiratory illnesses, but given the situation, it is safe to assume it is COVID.

As with every illness, the sooner you get treatment, the better. If you wait too long, there is very little the doctors can do.

Research shows that coronavirus doesn't affect olfactory sensory neurons because they don't have the ACE2 gene that enables the virus to enter human cells, but it attacks two other types of cells that have the gene and that feed and support the neurons.

This is good news; it means coronavirus won't permanently damage olfactory neurons and people will recover their sense of smell.

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