Millions of Covid patients suffered long-term changes to taste and smell that made eating food “disgusting and emotionally distressing”, a study published on Thursday shows.
One in 20, or 5 per cent, of patients have long-term smell and taste issues that cause “severe distress”.
Other patients suffered anorexia, anxiety and depression, according to the study, published in The BMJ, which reviewed data from 18 studies involving 3,699 patients.
The study was published as NHS England announced its plan for improving the treatment of people with long Covid.
In a linked editorial, a team of Italian academics wrote: “About 5 per cent of people report smell and taste dysfunction six months after Covid-19, and given that an estimated 550 million cases of Covid-19 have been reported worldwide as of July 2022, large numbers of patients will be seeking care for these disabling morbidities.
“Health systems should therefore be ready to provide support to these patients who often report feeling isolated when their symptoms are overlooked by clinicians.”
They said people “only realise the importance of smell when it is lost” and they can be “severely distressed” when they lose these senses.
“Loss of smell and taste adversely affects quality of life by depriving those affected of several everyday pleasures and social bonds,” the team, led by Paolo Boscolo-Rizzo from the University of Trieste, wrote.
“People can also experience anorexia, food aversions, malnutrition, anxiety, and depression,” they said.
Parosmia — the experience of a distorted sense of smell — “transforms a pleasant odour into an unpleasant one”, the group said.
For England, the NHS plans to fund 90 specialist long Covid clinics, 14 centres for children and young people and training investment to support doctors.
Dr Kiren Collison, chair of the NHS long Covid task force, said: “Long Covid can be devastating for those living with it, and while we continue to learn more about this new condition, it's important people know they're not alone, and that the NHS is here for them.
“Today's plan builds on this world-leading care, to ensure support is there for everyone who needs it, and that patients requiring specialist support can access care in a timely and more convenient way,” she said.