The reason some people fail to recover their sense of smell after COVID-19 is linked to an ongoing immune assault on olfactory nerve cells and an associated decline in the number of those cells, a team of scientists led by Duke Health report.
The finding, publishing online Dec. 21 in the journal Science Translational Medicine, provides an important insight into a vexing problem that has plagued millions who have not fully recovered their sense of smell after COVID-19.
While focusing on the loss smell, the finding also sheds light on the possible underlying causes of other long COVID-19 symptoms — including generalized fatigue, shortness of breath, and brain fog — that might be triggered by similar biological mechanisms.
“One of the first symptoms that has typically been associated with COVID-19 infection is loss of smell,” said senior author Bradley Goldstein, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor in Duke’s Department of Head and Neck Surgery and Communication Sciences and the Department of Neurobiology.
“Fortunately, many people who have an altered sense of smell during the acute phase of viral infection will recover smell within the next one to two weeks, but some do not,” Goldstein said. “We need to better understand why this subset of people will go on to have persistent smell loss for months to years after being infected with SARS-CoV2.”
In the study, Goldstein and colleagues at Duke, Harvard and the University of California-San Diego analyzed olfactory epithelial samples collected from 24 biopsies, including nine patients suffering from long-term smell loss following COVID-19.
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