Lessons in long COVID: Gov. Northam may never get sense of taste or smell back


RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A new Virginia Commonwealth University study and clinic are uncovering new information about those suffering from long COVID symptoms.

A new study from VCU reveals four out of every five COVID-19 survivors regain their sense of smell and taste within six months. That means smell and taste don’t return within six months for one out of every five COVID-19 survivors.

VCU doctors say Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam may be among the 20-percent who will never regain their sense of smell or taste.

Last week, Northam said he still can’t taste or smell anything a year after contracting the coronavirus.

Dr. Evan Reiter, Medical Director of VCU’s Smell and Taste Clinic, says those senses may be gone for good.

“It does make it very unlikely he will get back to a normal level or function, let alone have any recovery,” Dr. Reiter said.

COVID-19 can cause damage to the olfactory receptors or nerve cells in the nose. The study also found people under 40 were more likely to recover their sense than older adults, and those with a head injury were found to be less likely to recover a sense of smell.

Since the launch of VCU’s Long COVID-19 Clinic five months ago, doctors say they now know up to half of the people who get the virus will experience long haul COVID-19 symptoms. The most common symptoms are loss of taste or smell, shortness of breath, hair loss, extreme fatigue, and brain fog.

“That’s the inability to focus,” said Dr. Peter Jackson, who helped found the Long COVID-19 clinic and is an Assistant Professor of Pulmonary Care at VCU.

He also says since the clinic opened it’s been packed with patients.

“We have a ton of patients who are reaching out to us all the time trying to get visits,” Dr. Jackson said.

A patient with symptoms lasting more than 28 days is considered a COVID long hauler. Ten to 15 percent report symptoms lasting for as long as eight months. As far as treatment, clinical trials are still in the works. However, Dr. Jackson says theirs is a good reason to get moving.

“We know that exercise and physical rehabilitation can be helpful for those with long COVID,” Dr. Jackson said.

In addition, Dr. Reiter says they now know vaccination can help reduce the symptoms of long COVID.

Dr. Reiter says the best advice: try not to get COVID in the first place.

“It’s really prevention is the best thing,” he said.

According to Dr. Reiter, essential oils can help retrain the nose to smell in people still dealing with a loss of smell or taste. He also suggests experimenting with color, texture and spices when you eat.

“For some of my patients, hot sauce has become their best friend,” Dr. Reiter said.

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