Sniffing Out An Abrupt COVID-19 Symptom

By Lindsay Key, Duke University School of Medicine

An immunologist, neurobiologist, virologist, and medical doctor join forces to study one of COVID-19’s stranger mysteries: the sharp loss of smell and taste.

A buttery, rosemary-infused turkey cooks in the oven. Fresh cinnamon rolls drip with vanilla icing. Tart, sparkling cider fizzes in a glass. Every holiday season, most people can enjoy these treats thanks to an intricately wired central nervous system which controls the ability to smell and taste along with other senses.

But that is not the case for everyone. Even before the pandemic, Brad Goldstein, MD, PhD, Associate Professor at Duke in the Departments of Head and Neck Surgery & Communication Sciences and Neurobiology, treated patients regularly who suffer from an altered sense of smell or taste for one reason or another, whether it be sinusitis, traumatic head injury, or post-viral congestion. In fact, nearly twenty percent of people over age 40 experience varying ranges of smell and taste dysfunction.

But lately, Goldstein has seen a new population of patients. These patients have tested positive for COVID-19 and are experiencing one of the cardinal symptoms of the disease: loss of smell and taste. Unlike the flu or the common cold when patients may experience a loss of smell or taste as a result of post-viral mucus build-up in the nose and throat, COVID-19 patients often experience loss of smell and taste before any other symptoms.

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"Sniffing Out An Abrupt COVID-19 Symptom"

Lindsey Key, Duke University School of Medicine

December 16, 2020



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