ONE in every 20 people who catches Covid will permanently lose their sense of smell or taste, a study found.
More than a million Brits may already suffer long-term problems, with 45m virus cases recorded up to April this year.
A study in the British Medical Journal estimates 5.6 per cent of patients may never get their sense of smell back, while 4.4 per cent lose their taste.
It is common to lose the senses while sick with Covid but many people suffer for weeks, months or even years afterwards.
The NHS says 1.6million people in England have long Covid and health chiefs have laid out plans to tackle it with 90 specialist clinics plus mobile testing units.
Professor Paolo Boscolo-Rizzo, from the University of Trieste in Italy, was not part of the study but said: “People only realise the importance of smell when it is lost.
“Loss of smell and taste affects quality of life by depriving people of everyday pleasures and social bonds.
“Daily activities such as smelling coffee and sensing the flavour of food can become disgusting and emotionally distressing.
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“People can also experience anorexia, food aversions, malnutrition, anxiety and depression.”
Scientists at the National University of Singapore checked data from 3,699 patients who lost their taste or smell after catching Covid to see how many recovered.
Three quarters got them back within a month but the study said “a major group might develop long lasting dysfunction”.
Women are more likely to suffer permanent damage than men, it added.
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NHS bosses say people with long Covid will now be offered tests and check-ups closer to home thanks to services that will cut out the need for repeated GP visits.
Symptoms can include tiredness, breathing difficulties and brain fog as well as changes to your senses.
More than 45,000 people visited a long Covid clinic in England within the past year and mobile units will now speed up patients’ care.
Dr Kiren Collison, chair of the NHS long Covid taskforce said: “Long Covid can be devastating for those living with it.
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“It’s important people know they’re not alone and that the NHS is here for them.
“Today’s plan builds on our world-leading care to ensure support is there for everyone who needs it, and that patients can access specialist support in a more convenient way.”