Black sculpture’s face, centered on the right, with her nose broken off.
Photo by Peter Ivey-Hansen on Unsplash

COVID and Smell Loss: What Doctors Want You to Know

Michael Hunter, MD
Published in
3 min readAug 20, 2022


APPROXIMATELY FIVE PERCENT OF PEOPLE REPORT SMELL and taste dysfunction six months after COVID-19 infection.

Multiply that five percent by 550 million individuals who have reported contracting COVID-19 worldwide, and we get approximately 27 million individuals suffering from smell and taste loss.

Smell is an ancient and essential perception in mammals, with the smell (olfactory) receptor gene family comprising one percent of our genes. With our noses, we can distinguish thousands of airborne chemicals.

Only if you have lost your sense of smell can you fully appreciate the magnitude of the loss. The pandemic is putting smell and taste loss in the spotlight.

COVID and smell loss

You heard the bad news: Upwards of five percent of individuals who suffer from a COVID-19 infection will experience a loff of smell and taste.

Now the good news: Approximately 75 percent of individuals in groups (from several demographics) examined by the researchers, including participants in 18 previous studies worldwide, regained their smell and taste sensations within a month.

Vizsla dog, brown and medium-sized, point his nose to the upper left corner of the image. Mountains in the background, blurry.
Photo by Jeff Nissen on Unsplash

Parosmia is a fluctuating distorted smell perception. This altered sensation arises three months (on average) after the initial COVID19 infection. Most individuals experience an unpleasant smell, rendering normally pleasurable activities (such as smelling coffee or enjoying the odor of food).

Tan and colleagues analyzed a series of studies, with the analyzed studies conducted by interviewing patients. However, subjective evaluations such as these tend to underestimate the actual prevalence of smell dysfunction compared with more objective psychophysical tests.

Management of COVID-linked smell loss

The treatment of smell disorders is challenging, with few evidence-based tools available. In terms of COVID-related olfactory dysfunction, most evidence points to the virus targeting supporting cells in the nose lining (nasal neuroepithelium). These cells, rather…



Michael Hunter, MD

I have degrees from Harvard, Yale, and Penn. I am a radiation oncologist in the Seattle area. You may find me regularly posting at