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A fever and persistent cough are widely recognised coronavirus (COVID-19) symptoms. However, as of 18th May 2020, the UK government has added a third symptom to the official list of coronavirus symptoms – loss or change to sense of smell or taste (1). In this blog we will explore strategies to help patients to eat well whilst experiencing this symptom.
Changes to our sense of smell (olfactory sense) or taste (gustatory sense) can be broken down into several distinct disorders:
|Sense of smell||Sense of taste|
|Reduction in sensitivity||hyposmia||hypogeusia|
Changes to our sense of smell are fairly common. They’re usually temporary and it can be caused by colds or flu, allergies, sinus infections, or growths in the nose (2). Changes to our sense of taste are less common, but it can arise from nerve damage due to conditions such as hypothyroidism or diabetes, or as a result of chemo or radiotherapy (3).
However, if somebody experiences onset of any of the above symptoms, it could be coronavirus. Therefore, it’s very important that they self-isolate and follow the latest advice from the government and NHS (4).
Smell and taste are two important senses when it comes to the eating experience. They are closely linked, meaning that changes to one or both can have a big effect on our experience of food and drink.
Common consequences of changes to smell and taste include (5, 6, 7):
The exact effects may differ depending on the specific sensory change that occurs. For example, people who experience anosmia (loss of sense of smell) may lose the ability to taste different flavours, but can still distinguish the different tastes of sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and umami, whereas people who experience ageusia (loss of sense of taste) may lose this ability completely (8)
A loss of, or change to normal smell and taste senses due to COVID-19 is not dangerous, and it’s usually short-lived. However, it can make the eating experience less enjoyable, which could affect a person’s appetite and nutritional intake, putting them at increased risk of malnutrition. Ensuring that someone continues to eat well during COVID-19 infection, despite their symptoms, is important as malnutrition can negatively affect our immune system (9).
People experiencing loss of or changes to their smell and taste may wish to try the following tips to help them to continue to eat well despite their symptoms.