Study Examines Link Between Depression, Loss of Smell in COVID-19 Patients

New research reveals the coronavirus might be attacking the brain by traveling up through the nose and damaging the central nervous system, causing depression and anxiety its wake.

Dr. Ahmad Sedaghat, an ear, nose and throat specialist from the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, was one of the first COVID-19 experts to identify loss of smell as a significant symptom of the disease. Now he is proposing the virus uses the olfactory tract to attack the brain.

According to USA Today, he said that is possibly the reason why many patients who report loss of smell, often report depression as well. The idea of a possible link came from the results of a phone study that revealed patients who had psychological distress also reported  they lost their sense of smell.

The Cincinatti Enquirer reported Sedaghat identified loss of smell as an important diagnostic tool for identifying COVID-19 patients back in March, after European doctors noted the phenomenon.

“If you experience a decrease or complete loss of smell with no nasal obstruction — that’s according to doctors coming out of Europe — the odds are incredibly high that you are infected with the novel coronavirus,” he said.

Subsequently, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention expanded its list of symptoms to include loss of smell or taste.

Sedaghat said, once the virus travels up the nose and into the central nervous system it could cause the depression and anxiety reported by patients. He added he was surprised other, more severe symptoms, such as labored breathing and high fever were not associated with psychological distress.

“It is kind of absurd and ridiculous given how severe and dire these symptoms are,” he said, according to USA Today. “I would’ve guessed that the symptoms that would be most associated with depressed mood and anxiety would be severe, dire symptoms: shortness of breath, coughing, fever.”

Sedaghat said the new study raises more questions about how COVID-19 affects the brain and vowed to continue his research to find the answers.

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