A new study estimates that about 1.6 million Americans have suffered from anosmia. They lost their sense of smell due to the coronavirus and their condition became chronic.

More than a million US citizens who have contracted the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 have lost their sense of smell. For 1.6 million people in the United States, the study estimates that the condition has become chronic, with anosmia lasting at least six months after being infected with the coronavirus. Recall that chronic is a long-term disease that can be controlled, but not completely healed. The results are published in the journal JAMA Otolaryngology.

Although only a small fraction of those who suffer from chronic anosmia due to COVID-19 infection can permanently lose their sense of smell, the virus is so widespread that more than one and a half million people have been affected. Respiratory viral infections such as COVID-19 can cause anosmia. But it took some time before the loss of smell was recognized as a clear symptom of coronavirus infection.

Loss of smell is often accompanied by loss of taste, as the two senses are closely related to each other. Sometimes people can also experience parosmia or a distorted sense of smell, which makes everyday odors smell like garbage and sewage.

The authors of the new study are among the first scientists to try to estimate the number of cases of chronic anosmia associated with COVID-19 in the United States. “Over the past couple of months, my colleagues and I have seen a dramatic increase in the number of patients seeking care for olfactory dysfunction,” study author Jay Piccirillo, an otolaryngologist at the University of Washington in St. Louis and editor of JAMA Otolaryngology, told Gizmodo.

Picchirillo and his colleagues assessed many cases based on projections of the spread of COVID-19, the likelihood of developing anosmia (including chronic) as a result of infection. They found that 700,000 to 1.6 million Americans (as of August 2021) lost their sense of smell and the condition lasted more than six months after being infected with the coronavirus. This number includes patients with parosmia, although there are no specific numbers for this group. As the authors note, it is possible that these indicators are underestimated and the situation is much worse. The pandemic is not over yet and more Americans may become infected with SARS-CoV-2 in the coming months.