For many, losing your sense of taste and smell while suffering from COVID was a terrifying experience — you don’t realise how much of your life relies on those senses until you can’t use them.

While some COVID patients lost one or both of the senses completely (they’re directly related to each other), others reported that everything smelled noxious and gross, like fermented bin juice.

The whole thing has been a bit of a mystery, since unlike a flu or cold — which affects your sense of smell because your nose is probably stuffy or congested — people with COVID lost their smell even with no congestion at all. Sometimes their sense of smell remained lost weeks after recovering from COVID.

Now, according to the New York Times, a new study has proposed an explanation for how COVID affects your sense of smell. It’s kinda complicated, so let’s break it down.

Initially there was a debate on whether COVID infects the actual nerve cells that detect odours. Turns out it doesn’t, but it does affect other cells in the smell supply chain — specifically, cells that line your nasal cavity.

This leads to a chaotic cascading affect. The infected cells die and spread the virus, immune cells flood the area to battle it, and this entire war zone leads to inflammation.

This inflammation is chaotic for your smell receptors because their process is meticulous and sophisticated. The New York Times said that the receptors essentially “short-circuit”.

The new research is super valuable because it can be used to shed light on how COVID also affects your other receptors and cells. Maybe understanding how brain cells are affected by COVID, we can figure out how to treat that pesky “brain fog” or even potentially long COVID.

According to the New York Times, it’s possible that a few of COVID’s complications could be caused by your  immune system being a little too enthusiastic with inflaming infected areas when it fights the virus.

There’s still a lot to be learned about COVID, but scientists are making progress.