Recent findings suggest the existence of chronic inflammation that damages and kills cells within the nose could be the reason why certain people do not recover the sense of smell following COVID-19.
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One of the symptoms that have been related to COVID-19 disease can be the loss of smell as described by the senior writer of the research, Bradley Goldstein, MD Ph.D. Associate professor in head and neck surgery as well as neurobiology and communication sciences at Duke University. Duke University School of Medicine in Durham, North Carolina.
“Most people who have an altered sense of smell during the acute phase of viral infection will recover smell within the next one to two weeks, but some don’t,” says Dr. Goldstein.
A total of 15 million people living with COVID-19 across the globe suffer from a lost sense of smell, which continues even after they’ve been cleared of the disease, according to the findings of a study that was published in July 2022 by the journal BMJ.
“One of the driving motivators for our study is that we really don’t have highly specific or effective treatments for these types of smell loss; there’s a real unmet need for developing those kinds of treatments,” Goldstein states.
Researchers Found Inflammation in the Noses of People With Long COVID Smell Loss
Through a biopsy-based method (taking small amounts of tissue) within the olfactory part in the nasal area, scientists were able to examine the cells of those with COVID-related smell loss in comparison to those with an ordinary sense Goldstein says. Goldstein.
Investigators studied the epithelial layer of the olfactory system (the part of the tissue that surrounds the nose where the smell nerve cells are situated) of the 24 biopsies which included those of nine patients suffering from persistent loss of smell following COVID-19.
Findings May Point the Way to Potential Treatments for Long COVID Loss of Smell
“These findings provide key insights into what might cause long-term smell loss in some people who have long COVID,” says Akiko Iwasaki PhD Director of the Center for Infection and Immunity at the Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut. Although Iwasaki was not involved in the study. Iwasaki was not involved in the study she is the lead investigator for several studies on COVID with a long duration.
Understanding which parts of the nose are affected and which cell types are involved is a vital first step towards designing solutions to restore the smell, according to Goldstein. The sensory neurons appear to be able to repair even after a extended unusual immune reaction, an indication that the researchers considered to be encouraging.
Treatments that lessen this immune response , or improve the processes of healing within the nasal tissues of these patients can aid in at least partially improve the sensation of scent, as per the researchers of the study. One treatment option could use creams or sprays to block the inflammation-producing immune cells in the nasal lining, they wrote.
Researchers should conduct further research on larger amounts of people, say Goldstein. “There are numerous unanswered queries about the function of these cells. We have to determine whether there are any specific targets for drugs that we could use to solve the issue,” he says.
Smell Research May Help Studies on Other Long COVID Symptoms Like Fatigue
The long COVID may affect many various organs and systems of the body in various ways. The loss of smell is one of the signs, according to Goldstein. “We were fortunate that the tissue we were interested in studying — the olfactory lining in the nose — is readily accessible and relatively easy to biopsy,” Goldstein says.
This research could prove useful for those studying at other symptoms of COVID that are long-lasting such as tiredness, shortness of breath as well as cognitive fog which aren’t able to be investigated in the same way as the loss of smell.
“Our observations on T-cells and inflammation in the nose could be potentially relevant for understanding what’s going on in those other parts of the body that might be triggered by similar biological mechanisms,” Goldstein suggests.