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When it comes to recovering your sense of smell after COVID-19, it seems that age matters, according to researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) studying the unusual symptom of the disease.
First, the good news: More than half of adults (52 percent) recover their sense of smell within 14 days, two-thirds (66 percent) get it back within a month, and three-quarters (74 percent) recover it after three months, according to the study.
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But recovery rates aren’t as good for adults age 40 and older. Six months after reporting that their sense of smell was either “poor,” “very poor” or “absent,” 26 percent had yet to regain it. In comparison, only 17 percent of adults under 40 continued to experience olfactory dysfunction at the six-month mark.
The findings, reported in the American Journal of Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Medicine and Surgery, suggest that worldwide more than 20 million people could have lingering loss of smell more than six months after their COVID-19 diagnosis.
“With our cohort, we did see about an 80 percent recovery rate in a six-month period or longer. However, 20 percent is still a lot of people, given the millions that have been afflicted with COVID-19,” study coauthor Evan Reiter, vice chairman of VCU School of Medicine’s Department of Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery, said in a statement.
The latest report was based on detailed questionnaires competed by 798 study participants through June 2021. The first survey was completed 14 days after diagnosis of COVID-19, with follow-ups completed one, three and six months after diagnosis.
Aside from age, the latest data suggests that COVID-19 survivors whose early symptoms included nasal congestion were more likely to see olfactory improvements. The researchers weren’t particularly surprised to find that younger adults are more likely to recover their sense of smell. They suggest it likely can be explained by “some sort of innate resiliency to injury” and note that similar results have turned up in other studies, though none followed COVID-19 survivors to the six-month mark.
As to nasal congestion, the researchers speculate that some individuals may have experienced a loss of smell because their nose was stuffy rather than as a direct result of COVID-19.