As I’ve mentioned here previously, the producer of a podcast that I follow and his girlfriend both contracted COVID-19. The girlfriend lost her sense of taste and the story they told about how they discovered this fact was simultaneously amusing and alarming. Of all the negative symptoms people develop after contracting COVID-19, this has to be one of the strangest. At first I’d assumed that this was some sort of glitch or misunderstanding, but a bit of online research showed that a surprising number of people have been losing their sense of taste, smell, or both.

Over at the Washington Post, there’s a story of a woman from Boston who was hit with both of these symptoms on the same morning. Not long afterward, she learned that she had contracted the virus.

On the first day of spring, Grace Lawlor woke up, brushed her teeth and realized she couldn’t taste her toothpaste. Then she took a shower, and realized she couldn’t smell her shampoo. It struck her as odd, but nothing to be too worried about; she felt otherwise fine.

“My roommate and I were almost laughing about it,” says Lawlor, 25, who lives in Boston. “Like, what the heck is this? It was the craziest thing.”

The roommate didn’t believe her, so she decided to prove it by putting hot sauce on her tongue.

“It was as if I was drinking milk,” she says. “I could literally bite into an onion like it was an apple. And there was just nothing there. It was just absolutely bizarre.”

Meanwhile, a Los Angeles fitness trainer lost his sense of taste. Less than a day later he was in the ICU on a ventilator and was then put into a medically induced coma for five days. Thankfully, he recovered.

These are not isolated incidents. The WaPo article indicates that a recent study in Europe found that 85.6 percent of patients reported olfactory dysfunctions and 88 percent experienced gustatory dysfunctions. A second study revealed that the majority of patients experience these symptoms with a very rapid onset as if our fundamental senses could be “switched on and off like a lightbulb.”

After doing a little digging, I found out that this bizarre symptom of losing your sense of smell isn’t unique to COVID-19 patients. It can happen to anyone with damage to their olfactory receptors in their nasal passages. Also, anyone suffering from a severe respiratory infection, such as a nasty case of the flu, can experience the same thing. Most people recover from that aspect of the disease, though it may take up to a year.

Losing your sense of taste is a closely related phenomenon. It happens when an infection spreads to the gustatory receptors in your tongue and throat, preventing them from sending signals to the portion of your brain that processes flavors. Again, recovery is common for most patients. In the case of the producer’s girlfriend that I mentioned at the top, her senses returned before the virus had finished running its course.

This may sound like a minor problem to have (and it certainly is when compared to dying), but it can still be quite serious. Not only would it detract from your quality of life, but it could put you in danger. What if there was a natural gas leak in your home and you couldn’t smell it? What if the leftovers you set aside for lunch had gone bad and you wound up contracting food poisoning because you didn’t detect the problem?

This is one of the stranger aspects of the coronavirus, but it struck me as quite interesting while still being alarming. With that in mind, I thought I would share what I found with our subscribers. Thanks!