From the cheesy smell of mac and cheese to the greasy taste of crinkle fries, distinct tastes and smells can stand out as joyful experiences. But after having COVID-19, some are finding it difficult to remember these once-common sensations.
Many COVID-19 patients report losing their taste and smell or having altered taste buds, even after recovering from the virus.
Some UNC students who have been impacted by the virus in this way are remaining optimistic, but others are finding that they must alter their lifestyles completely.
“When I first lost my sense of smell and taste, I never realized how important it was until I wouldn’t eat because of how bland everything tasted,” Alvin Dinh, a sophomore majoring in chemistry, said. “I had to force myself to swallow meals because everything tasted like cardboard or water."
Dinh said meat and oil, for example, make him want to throw up. This sometimes makes him choose meat alternatives instead.
When Dinh first contracted COVID-19, he didn't realize it until he tasted his favorite bubble tea.
“I actually noticed because I lost my sense of taste,” Dinh said. “I was getting boba and I was like, ‘Why did this just taste like water?'”
Dinh will consider changes to his diet due to how unbearable some foods are now. The impact of COVID-19 on his taste buds has already altered his eating habits.
“I love getting potatoes on the side with burgers, but now because of (COVID-19), potatoes taste like dirt to me,” Dinh said. “I can taste the dirt and oil, and it makes me nauseous.”
Brennan Elms, a sophomore majoring in business administration, lost her sense of taste and smell immediately after going into quarantine and came down with abnormal chest pains that led to a diagnosis of costochondritis: inflammation of cartilage connected to the breastbone.
Despite having a positive outlook on the senses that she has lost due to COVID-19, Elms said that going to get her favorite meal from Taco Bell was a frustrating experience.
“I remember craving (Taco Bell) because it was something my dad and I used to do after a swim meet, so I was feeling nostalgic after I was out of isolation,” Elms said. “I went through the drive thru at Taco Bell, and what was really interesting was that I couldn’t taste any of it, which was so frustrating, but I was still happy to have had Taco Bell.”
Dr. Louise King, a professor in the Department of Medicine at the UNC School of Medicine, said that the virus enters into the olfactory nerve, which alters the sense of smell. She said the medical field knows little about why COVID-19 impacts the olfactory nerve.
“We don't know that much about it, except it probably binds to the receptors on the nerve,” King said. “I don't know the molecular mechanisms of how it affects it, but it seems to decrease the sense of smell, and that seems to be how it works.”
King, who works closely with COVID-19 patients, said she is not familiar with a remedy for how to gain back a sense of taste and smell after having the virus. She said students should experiment with various foods in the meantime.
“I don't think we found anything that will help,” she said. “To be honest, I think they can play around with different tastes and see if some are more noticeable to them than others. I do think also, they can be hopeful, and most of these people will eventually recover their sense of taste and smell.”
Despite the lack of readily available remedies, Elms said that her experience with losing taste due to COVID-19 is something that she has already come to terms with.
“In the grand scheme of things, it’s not that big of a deal,” Elms said. “It definitely was a shock at first, but it’s just silly. I haven’t done anything. I’m trusting my body and letting it do what it needs to do. I have good faith that it’ll get better because I’m getting my taste back slightly.”
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