Many unknowns about COVID-19 remain more than a year into the pandemic, among them the mysterious loss of taste and smell.
Dr. Sandeep Robert Datta, a professor of neurobiology at Harvard Medical School, and a large team of international collaborators proposed one way the virus causes people to lose their sense of smell.
“We were really curious, like many people, how it is that this virus attacks your sense of smell and your sense of taste,” Datta said.
They found that COVID-19 attacks sustentacular cells, the cells that support sensory neurons in the nose. By changing the function of these support cells and causing inflammation due to infection, the neurons responsible for detecting odorants in a person’s nose do not work as well.
This loss of taste and smell can be frustrating. A video posted to the social media site TikTok purports to show a natural home remedy in which you burn an orange peel and then put brown sugar on the orange to regain your sense of taste. The video gave hope to many people, but Datta said there is no scientific evidence to support it.
“I too was excited when I saw that video,” he said. “Unfortunately, as far as I know, there is no scientific evidence that you can regain your sense of smell by briefly smelling a burnt orange.”
But he does believe there is some evidence for something called smell therapy.
“You get some common smells that are pretty strong like peppermint oil or maybe cloves, and a couple times a day, you smell them and you tell yourself what they are,” Datta said. “It’s thought, through mechanisms we don’t really understand, that this experience with familiar smells repeatedly might improve the rate at which you recover.”
Other methods for recovering from this common COVID-19 symptom remain unclear.
“I think that points out that we don’t really understand much about the sense of smell from a science or medical perspective,” Datta said. “This pandemic has affected the sense of smell for millions upon millions of people worldwide and in America. There is a critical need for more research on the basic function of how sense of smell works and for treatments of viral infections to the nose so that when the next pandemic comes around, we’re prepared.”
Contact Acacia Hernandez: (773) 509-5518 | [email protected]