Can loss of sense of smell be a symptom of COVID-19?

by | Coronavirus - COVID-19, Coronavirus - Symptoms, Ear Nose and Throat Health

23 March 2020

Anosmia – the loss of sense of smell – has long been known to affect some people suffering from cold or flu viruses. In some cases, it becomes permanent.

And now, Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialists are questioning whether an unexpected loss of sense of smell could be a marker of COVID-19 infection.

Significant numbers of patients with proven COVID-19 infection, in South Korea, China, Italy and Germany, have developed anosmia (total loss of smell) or hyposmia (the reduced ability to detect smells), according to ENT experts from the UK.

President of the British Rhinological Society, Professor Claire Hopkins and President of ENT UK, Professor Nirmal Kumar, say there has been a rapidly growing number of reports of a significant increase in the number of patients presenting with anosmia in the absence of other symptoms.

In South Korea (where there has been more widespread testing), 30 per cent of patients testing positive have had anosmia as their major presenting symptom in otherwise mild cases.

“In the UK, ENT surgeons are pushing to have anosmia highlighted as an important symptom that may signify a patient may be an asymptomatic carrier”, says Professor Simon Carney, immediate past president of the Australia and New Zealand Rhinologic Society.

If patients did have COVID-19 but were not suffering any other symptoms, then the loss of sense of smell may help doctors identify patients who are infected and need to isolate, thus slowing the spread of infection.