By now, COVID's strangest symptom—loss of smell—has been well documented and widely discussed. But fewer people know that another, related sign of coronavirus may also tip you off to a diagnosis: an altered sense of taste. Many COVID patients report losing their ability to taste food or experience a major change in their palette—sometimes recalling familiar things. The most commonly reported flavors, regardless of what's actually on the menu? Paper and cardboard.
As NPR reports, Rachel Kaye, MD, a professor of otolaryngology at Rutgers University, received an overwhelming number of calls from fellow medical professionals about patients experiencing this particular phenomenon. "I got a lot of, 'Everything tastes like cardboard' and 'I can't smell anything,' " Kaye explained to NPR. She noted that many of those patients had no other known COVID symptoms, but many of them tested positive for coronavirus within two weeks after the calls. Kaye said she heard at least "two dozen" stories from other doctors fielding these same types of concerns.
While people often view loss of taste or smell as an unlikely symptom, studies have shown that up to 80 percent of those with COVID experience it. Thankfully, there's some good news if you've lost that particular sensation: it's typically associated with less severe bouts of the virus, and may indicate a simpler recovery.
However, as those who have experienced a loss of their senses can attest, losing your sense smell or taste can have a profound emotional impact—especially over time. Many patients have struggled to come to terms with losing an essential pleasure of daily life, a significant trigger for memory, and an important warning system for dangers in the world. Additionally, many experience heightened anxiety at not knowing whether these senses will eventually return (many patients infected early on in the pandemic have yet to recover).
Writer Krista Diamond described the "strange grief" of losing those senses in an opinion piece for The New York Times. "The ability to taste was my connection to life before the coronavirus. And suddenly it was—and still is—gone," she described. "In a way, anosmia is the perfect metaphor for the world during Covid-19: devoid of pleasures we didn't realize we might not always have." Read on for more first hand accounts of how it feels to lose your sense of taste, and for a full rundown of COVID symptoms, check out The 51 Most Common COVID Symptoms You Could Have.
"I couldn't taste it at all…"
As BBC reports, Horcel Kamaha, 23, also contracted COVID in March and lost his sense of taste for the three months that followed. "Everything that had really strong flavours, I couldn't taste," he says. "I was mostly eating Jamaican food and I couldn't taste it at all, everything tasted like paper or cardboard," he said. And for more on coronavirus, check out The Chance of Having COVID Without Symptoms Is Growing.
"I'm not sure why people aren't talking about this more…"
The BBC also shared the story of Eve, another 23-year-old whose symptoms began in March. "I remember eating a pizza and it tasted like I was eating nothing," she explained. "It's permanently affected how some things taste, for example bell peppers now taste exactly how freshly cut grass smells." Eve added, "I'm really not sure why people aren't talking about this more, it really affects people's mental health not being able to taste food. I know that sounds silly as I am lucky to have recovered but food is a huge source of happiness for me."
"I don't know. It tastes like cardboard to me."
According to The Wall Street Journal, Dan Lerg, 62, from Michigan, has yet to see his senses return since battling COVID in mid-March. "The other day [my wife and I] ordered the most awesome pizza ever and she goes: 'Isn't this awesome?' And I say, 'I don't know. It tastes like cardboard to me."' And for more on coronavirus symptoms, check out The Most Common Order for Developing COVID Symptoms.
"The first thing I did was put my head in the coffee jar…"
Proteus Duxbury, a healthcare technology officer in Colorado, spoke with Kaiser Health News (KHN) about his own experience of losing his sense of taste. After experiencing mild, cold-like symptoms in early March, Duxbury noticed that his meal had no flavor or aroma. "I didn't have cough, headache, fever or shortness of breath," he explained, "but everything tasted like cardboard. The first thing I did every morning was put my head in the coffee jar and take a real deep breath. Nothing." Six months after his recovery from coronavirus, Duxbury shares that his sense of smell and taste have returned, but are "slightly dulled."