There's good news for people who have partially lost their sense of taste and smell after a mild form of COVID-19: a new study shows that this side effect largely goes away three years after infection.
Italian researchers studied post-COVID treatment outcomes in 88 people who lost their sense of taste and smell at the start of the pandemic, all infected with the "mild form" of COVID-19 in March and April 2020. The average age of the patients at the start of the study was 49 years old.
A mild form of COVID-19 is defined as having no evidence of lower respiratory disease.
Compared with 88 patients who never tested positive for COVID-19, the rates of loss of smell and/or taste (measured by standard tests) were about the same three years later, reported the team led by Dr. Paolo Boscolo-Rizzo of the University of Trieste in Italy.
"At the end of the 3-year study, olfactory dysfunction was comparable in both groups," the researchers reported in their paper in the journal JAMA Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery.
As for loss of sense of taste (taste dysfunction), Boscolo-Rizzo's group similarly found "no significant differences" between people who had mild COVID-19 and groups who never had COVID-19, two and three years later.
While many COVID-19 patients did complain of dulled senses of taste and smell, the new study found that recovery of senses does occur over time.
For example, while about two-thirds (64.8%) of people with mild COVID-19 said they lost their sense of smell and/or taste during the illness, that number dropped to about 32% a year later, then to 20.5% two years after infection, and finally to about 16% three years later.
The researchers noted that the latter number was only slightly different from the group of people who never tested positive for COVID-19.
Bottom line, according to the researchers: former COVID-19 patients "should be reassured that olfactory recovery appears to continue for up to 3 years after initial infection."