Researchers studying long-term effects of COVID, including distorted smell, enlarged tongue

Researchers are still learning more about the long-term effects of COVID-19. Not only can it affect your sense of smell temporarily, and long term, but in some cases, the virus can damage your tongue.

Many patients recovering from COVID-19 say they’re always fatigued or they have chest pains and memory problems. Now, more people are also reporting problems with their sense of smell.

“The virus that causes COVID-19 seems to have a predilection for infecting the cells that live near the smell nerves and subsequently causing secondary injury or even the death of smell nerves,” said Dr. Ahmad Sedaghat, with the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.

Sedaghat says as those nerves start to heal, about one to four months after the COVID-19 infection, many patients are complaining of a condition called parosmia, a strange distortion of smell.

“The changes to the sense of smell are typically quite bothersome. They can be things like gasoline, smoke, fire, rotten food, rotten flesh.”

Besides dealing with injured olfactory nerves, some doctors are seeing patients with a rare new symptom – an enlarged tongue.

“Because of the giant tongue, they can’t talk, can’t go out in public, can’t eat by mouth, so their quality of life is extremely poor,” said Dr. James Melville, with the University of Texas Health School of Dentistry.

The condition is not a direct side effect of coronavirus itself, but a result of a treatment – long-term intubation, Melville says.

Melville says the most effective treatment is tongue-reduction surgery.

As for patients dealing with distorted smell, doctors rely on a type of therapy for the nose, called olfactory training. That involves essentially practicing smelling concentrated odors to stimulate the nerves, Sedaghat says.

Since there is no surgery or medication for parosmia, retraining and regaining a normal sense of smell usually takes several months for most patients.

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