COVID’s grim superpower is that its vast range of symptoms makes it difficult to track and diagnose. Though early in the pandemic, many were on the lookout for a telltale fever and cough, it’s become increasingly clear that plenty of patients never exhibit these better known symptoms. Today, we know that a person who loses their sense of taste or smell is likely to turn up a positive COVID test—but many still don’t realize that another, related symptom could also serve as a warning sign. According to The Washington Post, many COVID patients experience a “warped” sense of taste or smell: not entirely lost, but noticeably altered. This symptom is called parosmia, a dysfunction of smell detection that can also have an impact on one’s ability to process flavor perception—and it appears to be surprisingly prevalent in COVID patients.
Jennifer Spicer, MD, an infectious disease physician at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, shared her experience of parosmia with the Post after recovering from COVID-19 in July. “I thought I had recovered,” she explained. But months later in October, Spicer noticed while drinking a glass of freshly opened red wine that her beverage tasted “like gasoline.” In fact, coffee had the same flavor, a surefire sign that her olfactory cues were misfiring. Meat, to Spicer, tasted universally rotten.
As it turns out, accounts of COVID patients smelling or tasting gasoline and rot are surprisingly prevalent. Another woman interviewed by BBC News about her symptoms reported that “meat tastes like petrol and Prosecco tastes like rotting apples” since contracting COVID. A separate Newsweek article quoted a patient as saying, “I had COVID, now my food tastes rotten and wine tastes like oil.” Research has yet to explain why these particular scents and flavors are seemingly common—only that they’re the result of damaged nasal nerve endings and olfactory receptors.
Wondering what else could be behind your altered sense of smell or taste, if not COVID? Read on for other causes of this surprising symptom, and for more on how coronavirus impacts your senses, check out If You Can’t Smell These 2 Things, You May Have COVID.
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If you notice a distinct change in how you perceive flavor but get a negative COVID test, you may want to make your dentist’s office the next stop. Gum disease or any kind of oral infection can impact the way you experience taste. In particular, patients often report a metallic flavor in their mouth alongside their dental discomfort. And for more on maintaining your oral hygiene, check out What Happens When You Only Brush Your Teeth Once a Day.
Being deficient in certain nutrients can trigger an altered or lessened sense of taste or smell. For instance, if you lack zinc in your diet—less than eight milligrams if you’re a woman and 11 if you’re a man—research shows that you may experience a metallic taste or weakened olfactory senses. And for more on how deficiencies could affect your chances with COVID, check out 80 Percent of Hospitalized COVID Patients Are Deficient in This Vitamin.
Allergies can lead to issues like inflammation, congestion (which can block your olfactory receptors), or nasal polyps, all of which can lead to a reduced sense of taste and smell. Thankfully, in these cases, you can typically treat your allergies with over the counter medication that will correct the problem. And for more on the difference between allergies and the current biggest health concern, This Is How to Know If Your Stuffy Nose Could Be COVID.
COVID-19 can often present with upper respiratory symptoms, but it isn’t the only upper respiratory illness that can trigger a loss of smell or taste. The common cold, the flu, laryngitis, sinus infections, and more could be behind this symptom. And for more on how to tell the difference, check out This One “Wacky” Symptom Means You Have COVID, Not the Flu.