Background: Taste disorders (TDs) have been reported to be very common in patients suffering from coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), which is caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. In most of the hitherto conducted studies, a gustatory assessment was performed on the basis of surveys or self-reports by patients. The aim of our study was to undertake an objective assessment of four basic taste qualities by conducting tasting sessions that allowed detection thresholds in COVID-19 Tunisian patients and to study their associations with inflammation.
Methods: This analytical cross-sectional study was conducted on 89 patients aged between 21 to 70 years who had been diagnosed with COVID-19. We used Burghart taste strips to assess taste perception of the four taste qualities, i.e., sour, bitter, sweet, and salty. Serum levels of interleukin-1β (IL-1β), interleukin-6 (IL-6), tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α), and C-reactive protein (CRP) were measured.
Results: Taste disorders were reported by 40.4% of the patients, while objective assessments revealed that 63.8% of participants were suffering from hypogeusia and/or ageusia. Sour taste was the most altered (70.8%) gustatory quality. Patients with severe COVID-19 had significantly lower sour and bitter taste scores when compared to patients with minor/moderate forms. There was no significant association between serum inflammatory markers and taste disorders. However, the relationship between bitter and sweet taste qualities and IL-1β levels was significant (p = 0.018 and p = 0.041).
Conclusions: Our results demonstrate the interest in the objective assessment of taste dysfunctions in COVID-19 patients.
Keywords: COVID-19; inflammation; objective gustatory perception; taste disorders.