Thanks to recent studies, researchers are beginning to understand how COVID-19 impacts smell receptors.
The virus that caused a global pandemic has caused a lot of stress and misunderstanding on an international level. Among COVID-19’s most interesting and concerning side effects is anosmia, the loss of smell that’s been reported by over 1.6 million people in the United States alone. New research has finally revealed why this happens.
The study was published in the journal Cell, and was based on research carried out in a variety of universities located in New York, Boston, and more. It was conducted on humans and hamsters, animals that have very similar properties to humans. These subjects were infected with COVID-19, allowing researchers to analyze how the virus acted in their bodies, particularly with their nasal systems.
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Researchers discovered that the coronavirus does not infect brain cells. Instead, it attacks supporting cells located in the nasal cavity. As the infected cells shed the virus and die off, the immune system floods to the nasal area with immune cells. This activity inflames the area, disturbing smell receptors and completely disrupting how they normally work. It’s a sort of brain short circuit that can last for weeks.
The New York Times spoke with several experts who believe the research also explains some symptoms of long COVID-19. “This might be a general principle: that a lot of what the virus is doing to us is a consequence of its ability to generate inflammation,” said Dr. Sandeep Robert Datta, associate professor at Harvard Medical School.
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While the virus doesn’t infect and harm neurons, it prompts the immune system to react, with the ensuing inflammation causing a lot of the damage and side effects that patients later report. It’s a complex system that takes time to rearrange and normalize.
A cure for cases of anosmia and a variety of long COVID-19 symptoms has yet to be found, but studies like this set the ground for answers and treatment.