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COVID's Impact on Your Sense of Taste May Be Worse Than Thought, New Study Says

Researchers are finding that the common symptom may actually be a result of damage to your taste buds.
FACT CHECKED BY Faye Brennan

Those who have had COVID-19 have reported a range of symptoms, including a number of people who discovered that they'd lost their sense of taste for a time after becoming ill. This temporary inconvenience and annoyance was something experts believed had more to do with how the virus was affecting the sense of smell, due to the fact that smell impacts taste. However, a new study that was published by JAMA Otolaryngology has now found that COVID may, indeed, do direct harm to taste buds.

Researchers led by Italy's University of Trieste worked with 105 people who had reported "a disruption of their ability to taste sweet, sour, salty, or bitter more than 3 months after a SARS-CoV-2 infection" to look for signs of "possible damage to their taste buds," according to Medical News Today. After conducting tests that focused on both smell and taste, 42% of participants were found to have "hypogeusia—a loss of basic tastes."

While there may have been other reasons for the damage to tastebuds, Claire Hopkins, professor of rhinology at Guy's Hospital, London, in the United Kingdom, and one of the authors of the study, told Medical News Today, "There is some difficulty in self-rating true taste loss versus reduced flavor perception, which is a consequence of smell loss. … This leads to over-reporting of taste loss, and it has been largely assumed that this accounts for most reported alterations in taste disturbance after COVID."

Man taking off face mask for smelling lemon
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As for how COVID is potentially causing taste-related damage, Thomas Gut, D.O., the associate chair of medicine at Staten Island University Hospital, tells Eat This, Not That! that although the issue was initially linked to smell, "recent theories suggest that COVID may directly affect our taste buds using a mechanism that was previously understood to be the pathway to lung damage in COVID."

"Both proposed mechanisms can cause changes in taste that range from complete lack of ability to discern between flavors to a miss-sense of taste that can result in the perception of bad or incorrect flavors," says Gut.

"So far, it's generally considered to be a symptom that will resolve on its own within a few months of infection," Dr. Gut adds. "However, there's a growing number of patients that now suffer from abnormal taste sensation for several months since their infection."

Beyond that, Dr. Gut notes, "Unfortunately, few options exist for treatment currently, but more options may come to light as we learn more about how this virus attacks us."

For more on the latest food and health news, check out The #1 Best Juice to Drink Every Day, Says Science.

Desirée O
Desirée O is a freelance writer who covers lifestyle, food, and nutrition news among other topics. Read more