Feb. 16, 2022 -- About four in 10 COVID patients have some sort of taste loss, according to a new study.

Many COVID-19 patients report losing their sense of taste as well as their sense of smell, but scientists have been skeptical because the two senses are closely related and it was relatively rare for people to lose their taste sense before the COVID pandemic, says the Monell Chemical Senses Center, a nonprofit research institute in Philadelphia.

But a new Monell Center analysis found that 37% -- or about four in every 10 -- of COVID-19 patients actually did lose their sense of taste and that “reports of taste loss are in fact genuine and distinguishable from smell loss.”

Taste dysfunction can be total taste loss, partial taste loss, and taste distortion. It’s an “underrated” symptom that could help doctors better treat COVID patients, the Monell Center said in a news release.

“It is time to turn to the tongue” to learn why taste is affected and to start on how to reverse or repair the loss, said Mackenzie Hannum, PhD, an author of the report and a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Danielle Reed, PhD.

Researchers looked at data about 138,785 COVID patients from 241 studies that assessed taste loss and were published between May 15, 2020, and June 1, 2021. Of those patients, 32,918 said they had some form of taste loss. Further, female patients were more likely than males to lose their sense of taste, and people 36-50 years old had the highest rate of taste loss.

The information came from self-reports and direct reports.

“Self-reports are more subjective and can be in the form of questionnaires, interviews, health records, for example,” Hannum said. “On the other hand, direct measures of taste are more objective. They are conducted using testing kits that contain various sweet, salty, and sometimes bitter and sour solutions given to participants via drops, strips, or sprays.”

Though self-reports were subjective, they proved just as good as direct reports at detecting taste loss, the study said.

"Here self-reports are backed up by direct measures, proving that loss of taste is a real, distinct symptom of COVID-19 that is not to be confused with smell loss," said study co-author Vicente Ramirez, a visiting scientist at Monell and a doctoral student at the University of California, Merced.

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Monell Center: “Monell Center Researchers Estimate the True Prevalence of COVID-19 Taste Loss.”

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