Why Do You Lose Your Taste and Smell When You Have COVID-19?

Kenneth Knowles, MD
Medically reviewed by Kenneth Knowles, MDJanuary 16th, 2021
woman smelling food

It vanishes overnight: There’s no welcoming scent of freshly brewed coffee in the morning, nor its strangely comforting bitter taste. What would you do if you suddenly lost these senses? The answer is becoming more familiar to individuals throughout the nation, as we continue to learn about coronavirus (COVID-19), its symptoms, and long-term effects.

Over the past few months, we’ve seen an increase in COVID-19 cases where anosmia (loss of smell) and accompanying ageusia (diminished sense of taste) are persistent symptoms. This development is puzzling specialists and civilians alike—particularly since COVID-19 presents a wide variety of symptoms and levels of severity. So, why is the loss of taste and smell plaguing the majority of COVID-19 patients before the more pressing symptoms show? We’re taking a closer look at this peculiar COVID-19 clue:

Why Does This Happen?

Over six million individuals with mild to moderate

COVID-19 infections reported problems with their sense of smell, and a similar number of people reported changes in taste perception. Taste and smell are two senses that work together as part of your chemosensory system, so when one is affected the other is typically diminished, too. Why is the loss of these senses a shared symptom among the majority of COVID-19 cases? While research is still underway, it appears that the SARS-CoV-2 virus binds to ACE2 proteins on host cells’ surfaces, and ACE2 proteins happen to be abundant in your mouth and nose. And while scientists haven’t found ACE2 proteins directly on nerve cells that are in charge of smell, they have found them on surrounding cells, leading to the possibility that the infection of those surrounding cells causes damage or inflammation and thus, loss of smell. A recent study also found that the overuse of nasal sprays containing zinc can also affect your olfactory senses, leading to a reduction in your ability to smell. As for how the SARS-CoV-2 virus affects loss of taste, researchers have less conclusive data. It’s currently thought that loss of taste is a consequence of loss of smell. [availability_widget]

How to Cope With the Loss of Smell & Taste

When you put things into perspective, this

COVID-19 symptom may not seem as drastic as its other symptoms, like shortness of breath or extreme fatigue. However, the sudden loss of smell and/or taste can add to the overwhelming situation—impacting your physical and mental wellbeing. Our senses largely contribute to how we live our lives. If you’re someone who’s privileged enough to have all five senses, the sudden loss of one or two can greatly impact your quality of life. In the same light, sudden loss of smell or taste for someone with COVID-19 in the deaf community and/or visually impaired community can be even more distressing.

It’s easy to get freaked out at the mere mention of COVID-19, let alone its symptoms and a positive test result, but there are some ways that you can cope with this shocking symptom:

  • Maintain hope for recovery
  • Consider cooking with spicier foods
  • Join a therapy group

Other Red Flags

In certain scenarios, the sudden loss of smell and taste has become an essential clue to coronavirus, preceding other symptoms and acting as a sort of warning sign to potential infection. However, new loss of smell and taste could also be a cause of something else, such as conditions that affect the nervous system or growths in the nasal cavities. If you’re unsure of the root cause, monitor for other COVID-19 symptoms, including:

When to Seek Immediate Medical Attention


If you are experiencing emergency warning signs of COVID-19—such as trouble breathing, persistent pain/pressure in the chest, new confusion, inability to wake or stay awake, and bluish lips—seek medical care immediately. For those at-risk of developing complications with COVID-19, minor symptoms or a positive test result should prompt you to take extra precautions and alert your care team. DispatchHealth can help you benefit from the prompt relief you need in these acute care situations.

We provide personalized, same-day medical care, treatment, and testing to people of all ages in the comfort of their homes. In response to the pandemic, we are testing for COVID-19 and supporting positively tested patients by providing care in a familiar home environment. Our staff is protecting themselves and others by following rigorous disinfection protocols before, during, and after patient visits. And, our teams also come prepared in PPE gear.

To benefit from our healthcare delivery service, request care by simply contacting us via phone, mobile app, or website.


DispatchHealth relies only on authoritative sources, including medical associations, research institutions, and peer-reviewed medical studies.

Sources referenced in this article:

  1. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/coping-with-the-loss-of-sense-of-smell-and-taste-2020101921141
  2. https://www.healthline.com/health/coronavirus-loss-of-taste-loss-of-smell
  3. https://www.vumc.org/coronavirus/latest-news/five-things-know-about-smell-and-taste-loss-covid-19
  4. https://www.memorialhermann.org/health-wellness/health/senses
  5. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/02/health/coronavirus-smell-taste.html
  6. https://www.bmj.com/content/370/bmj.m2808
  7. https://www.healthline.com/health/coronavirus-loss-of-taste-loss-of-smell#cause
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5097460/
The DispatchHealth blog provides tips, tricks and advice for improving lives through convenient, comfortable healthcare.

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