Healthcare professionals are not giving adequate treatment to people with smell and taste disorders because of poor understanding of these conditions, a study has revealed.
The research by Newcastle University and the University of East Anglia showed GPs and other specialists were failing to recognise symptoms. This resulted in patients repeatedly being given ineffective treatments and being unlikely to get an onward referral for treatment. The results were published recently in the journal of Clinical Otolaryngology.
Loss of smell and taste can arise as a result of infection or injury, a side-effect of some medications or as a consequence of neurological diseases, such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s.
In addition, loss of smell or taste are common symptoms of Covid-19. As many as one in ten people report that their sense of smell has not returned to normal, four weeks after contracting the virus.
Professor Carl Philpott, from the University of East Anglia, said: ‘Before the pandemic, smell disorders affected around five per cent of the population. But the huge rise in smell loss caused by Covid-19 has created an unprecedented worldwide demand for treatment.’
The researchers surveyed more than 600 smell loss patients, through an online international survey to determine their experience of healthcare systems and treatment for their symptoms.
Only around 20% of patients surveyed who were being treated for smell and taste disorders experienced an improvement in symptoms following treatment. Almost all of the participants (98%) reporting that their quality of life had been affected since losing their sense of smell or taste, with 60% of patients suffering from anxiety or depression as a consequence of symptoms.
Dr Stephen Ball, from Newcastle University’s Faculty of Medical Sciences, who led the study, said: ‘This research highlights that a greater focus needs to be dedicated to patients with smell or taste loss. When you contrast the healthcare services funded and available for people with loss of other senses – such as vision or hearing the differences are vast.’
The research team stated that there is ‘an unmet need for these patients in accessing health care’ which needs to be recognised in order to remove barriers to treatment.
Dr Ball added: ‘More attention and resources need to be provided for this group of patients that has increased significantly following the Covid-19 pandemic.’