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Covid, and the physiology of taste

I thought the subject matter of the conversation between @NW3Andre and @JamesE deserved it’s own thread, not least because it seems quite a few forum members have had covid and it would probably be nice to share, the subject of taste is probably quite central to most on here and also (to do our bit) an article on the radio the other day was suggesting that there may well be a national initiative to collate all the varied and wide-spread data regarding covid being shared on the internet to better help our understanding. (I can but dream :grinning:)

I’m intrigued by the conversation on the other thread, because the experiences of my other half and I were markedly different with Covid. She completely lost her sense of taste and smell, and pretty as @JamesE says, is only just getting it back to normal, starting with simple salt/sugar/bitter/sour.

I myself suffered no noticeable loss of either sense (though had to sleep on the sofa for a few days as I couldn’t climb the stairs, so it wasn’t exactly a fair trade-off :roll_eyes:).

But, and it’s quite an important but (I think with regard to the subject matter) the first two bottles we opened post-Covid (a Sichel Sauternes and a Laffitte-Teston Ericka PdVB Sec) tasted, to both of us overwhelmingly of ear wax - really, really bitter. My other half is normally over-sensitive to bitter and sour flavours, and her sensitivity to vinegar (even acids from citrus) became acute for several days, but has now subsided as her sense of smell has started to slowly return.

It’s be interesting to hear how others have experienced the loss of/alteration to their smell taste - and perhaps we as a community can help understand this (bizarre) illness :grinning:

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Pretty certain that this is not what we’re meant to be doing…

Joking aside, my wife and I had different taste-loss experiences. Hers just went completely, with everything just tasting really bland then gradually (2 weeks or so) recovering in the salt/sweet/etc way.

I retained most of mine but could not deal with the smell or taste of garlic, leek and onion - it was like the bitterness in these was dialled up by a factor of 10. The effects died down much faster for me too, probably only about 8 days.

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That last bit is fascinating - in complete contrast I was craving lashings of garlic with everything. I kid you not that I even chopped some up raw on my avocado for breakfast as I was recovering :grinning:

I would agree on the bitterness thing though - I am a lover of bitter and sour flavours generally, but even I (garlic aside) couldn’t face them for a few days.

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This isn’t perhaps relevant to Covid as such, but what you are describing seems uncannily similar to the (sometimes extreme) way taste and smell sensations can alter during pregnancy. For example, I’ve always been a huge coffee fan, but couldn’t drink - or indeed bear the smell of coffee brewing - when I was pregnant. The same was with red wine - it made me terribly nauseous - so 9 months or so withot it were very easy indeed! On the other hand, I had a mad craving for pickled food - chillies in particular, which reached frenzied craving at certain points of the day. I love pickled food anyway, but during pregnancy it was dialled up to 11 and meant a few night trip to an all-night supermarket for the husband.

Now, Covid is clearly a totally different thing, but it would be fascinating to know what is actually going on in the brain to change these smell and taste perception (or indeed, erase them completely) in both cases. I know in pregnancy hormonal changes are cited as the cause, but it is still an experience I have a very strong memory of even nearly 19 years after.

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One of the strongest memories I have from a couple of weeks ago, was going into the garage (where all the wine is) to get something from the fridge, and looking particularly at my bottles of Barolo, and come to think of it the Xinomavro, (but not the others) and thinking’I’m not never ever going to be able to drink those now’. It was the thought of the particular profile of Nebbiolo, it’s inherent savouriness, that (and I’m trying not to exaggerate here) repulsed me.

I’m sure in years to come that we’ll start to see answers as to what the root cause of all these different symptoms are, but the main thing I take away from the illness (beyond, frankly being a bit scared) was the strange psychological and physiological effects that it has on your body. It is really, really odd.

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Pretty sure I had ‘IT’ back in January last year, when it did not officially exist (and there were no tests in anyway)

Lost pretty much most of taste & smell. I COULD however pick up tannins - which on their own are not nice, so switched to white wines… which were skewed towards a cloying sweetness.

I finally settled on Fizz - and even started a thread to find something affordable Suggestions? champagne alternative

From then on , Beer (as always) was the answer. Happily now, back to normal.

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how long did it take for your palate to return to normal?

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Covid may lead to more research on smell. Interesting article in the New York Times last week:
From The New York Times:

What Can Covid-19 Teach Us About the Mysteries of Smell?

The virus’s strangest symptom has opened new doors to understanding our most neglected sense.

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As I say, I never had any perceptible loss of taste and smell - the bitterness we experienced from the wine probably lasted for me for a maximum of 48 hours, but my partner is still experiencing a little and hasn’t fully recovered her sense of taste and smell yet. What I found strange was that we both experienced it in what is a very sweet wine - my partner couldn’t perceive any sweetness at all, me only a little. (And it wasn’t faulty wine, as both bottles went into the fridge, and for me were absolutely fine a couple of days later.)

But I don’t know how long that had gone on for before, as I hadn’t had a glass of wine for 3 weeks - the first week was just like having a touch of flu, and whilst I didn’t drink, I had a healthy appetite and no change whatsoever to taste and smell. The second week I was quite seriously ill - classic symptoms of high BPM heart-rate, low blood oxygen and difficulty breathing - which is when I started craving garlic (and then, as I got a little better, Chinese hot and sour soup. Go figure, but it was like the elixir of life for me! :grinning:)

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According to the NHS, I didnt have covid; no temperature, no loss of taste, no dry cough. However, I felt terrible for a couple of weeks, muscle pain in my back, couldn’t sleep at night, cough, sneezing, an incredible thirst for four days (seriously wondered if I had diabetes), and to bring it back on topic, our homemade granola tasted disgusting. So bad, that I couldn’t eat it for a few days. Everything else tasted, and smelled, completely normal, including plenty of wine.
I’ve just ordered a covid antibody test, so will be interested in the result.

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My other half knows someone who had a very bad experience with it, yet had three negative tests. According to their doctor (I’m merely quoting here, I don’t know how true this is) the test is only 70% accurate, so misses many people.

Sliding scale - so not easy to say for sure. Beer was fine after 2 to 3 weeks (I did work at it , almost re-learning to enjoy). Wine took longer, 2 to 3 months maybe ? I have no idea if it returns to the old normal or a new level.

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Depends on the test type.

Lateral flow tests rarely give a false positive, but pick up only about 70% of actual positives (so 30% false negatives). These are generally the quick turnaround tests and used for asymptomatic / key worker testing.

PCR tests are pretty on the money. If you book an NHS COVID test then this is likely what you get, and it’s going to be about 98% accurate if you follow the instructions (if you don’t gag, you’re not doing it right, as the person overseeing it told me).

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It’s not a detailed explanation, but the brain integrates the senses of smell (nose) and taste (tongue) to give an overall impression of flavour. So the two senses are to an extent interdependent, together creating what we perceive as flavour, in ways that may depend on experience and genetics.

One interdependecy that has been shown experimentally is that drops of a sweet substance applied to the tongue increase our sensitivity to almond aromas. (My source for everything so far is so far is the book “Neurogastonomy” by Gordon M Shepherd)

But there is no reason to believe that other dependencies do not exist. For example, anecdotally it is a common experience in wine tasting, that aromas of ripe fruit (a smell) give the impression of sweetness (a taste). Also, to me, citrus aromas (a smell) are somehow sharp and acidic (a taste).

All this could be said to be a common form of synaesthesia, though I think the term is more usually used for rarer examples, like when people associate colours with words and numbers.

So I guess if you remove the sense of smell (which is what I uderstand Covid-19 does), or some aspects of the sense of smell, it throws the brain’s notion of flavour (smell and taste) out of kilter in ways that are difficult to predict.

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This was a fascinating read! Thanks for posting, @SPmember.

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I sympathise with all those who have problems with taste and smell post-covid. Though not covid related, I suffered from no taste or smell (anosmia) for many years with fleeting relief from time to time. All the available treatments were tried and failed including a sinus procedure. My wife alerted me to a new approach outlined in a medical column of the paper. It seems that anosmia is associated with inflammation of the nasal linings and the macrolide class of antibiotics can act to reduce this, restoring taste and smell. I went on a half dose of Zithromax for an initial 3 months, as outlinrd in the scientific paper. Right on cue, taste and smell came back full on at the end of the 3 months and continued. That was 7 years ago. I’m still on a half dose of antibiotic but taste and smell remain excellent.
My ENT consultant was quite sniffy about this success; he had no hand in it!
I do not know if inflammation in the nasal passages is caused by covid but this might be an avenue worth exploring.

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The paper referrred to above is “Macrolide therapy of chronic rhinosinusitis” by Anders Cervin and Ben Wallwork in Rhinology, 45, 259 -267, 2007

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Just had the result of my covid antibody test; I tested positive as did my wife. So what I thought was flu was actually covid.

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I think that’s good news for you. Though it probably didn’t feel like it at the time.

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Had my covid jab this morning after invitation yesterday. Much earlier than expected and apparently “it’s going quicker than anticipated”. Happy with that but a little disappointed to be told that after the jab I could “carry on taking the same precautions as before”. Still, it’s a step forward I think and now I just have to wait for the second jab in 8-10 weeks, or 4-12 weeks, according to the 2 people I asked.
One step at a time!

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