Is loss of sense of smell a symptom of COVID-19?
Medically reviewed by Drugs.com. Last updated on March 26, 2020.
Anosmia, or a loss of sense of smell, has been reported in people with COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2). Some of these people may also find that their sense of taste, or ability to detect flavours, is also altered.
- In Germany, more than 2 in 3 confirmed COVID-19 cases have anosmia
- In South Korea, 30% of people with confirmed COVID-19 and otherwise mild symptoms have had anosmia as their major presenting symptom
- China and Italy have also seen significant numbers of people with COVID-19 develop anosmia or hyposmia (impairment of the sense of smell)
- Ear Nose Throat (ENT) surgeons in Iran, the United States, France, Northern Italy and the United Kingdom have seen sudden, significant increases in the number of people with recent onset anosmia in the absence of other symptoms. Professor Claire Hopkins, a consultant ENT Surgeon at London’s Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital, thinks these people may be ‘hidden carriers’ of COVID-19, but it is impossible to tell for sure because they do not meet the current criteria for testing.
Is loss of sense of smell common in people with viral infections?
Yes, post-viral anosmia, or losing your sense of smell after a viral infection, is the second most common cause of anosmia in adults. Previously identified coronaviruses are thought to be the cause of 10-15% of cases of post-viral anosmia. Other common causes of anosmia are head injuries and chronic congestion caused by allergies, nasal polyps and other causes.
What to do if you lose your sense of smell during the COVID-19 pandemic?
If you suddenly lose your sense of smell during the COVID-19 pandemic, then ENT surgeons in the United Kingdom advise that you follow current guidelines for self-isolating.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides guidance on home isolation to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. The CDC recommends that if you think you have COVID-19 then you should stay in a separate ‘sick room’ and use a separate bathroom if possible. These measures should be accompanied by all the usual steps such as washing your hands regularly, cleaning high touch surfaces frequently, avoiding sharing personal household items and wearing a mask. If you make an appointment to visit your health care provider then call ahead first and make them aware of your symptoms.
Is there a treatment for loss of sense of smell caused by COVID-19?
Oral steroids are used to improve recovery rates for people with post-viral anosmia, but are not recommended if the anosmia is thought to be related to COVID-19. This is because it is currently unclear whether treatment with oral steroids may make the severity of COVID-19 worse.
People taking steroidal nasal sprays for hayfever or other conditions are advised to continue using them if needed. If they reduce symptoms of a runny nose and sneezing then they may help prevent transmission of SARS-CoV-2, although it is unlikely they will be of any further benefit.
Will my sense of smell return?
In the United Kingdom and Italy health care providers have reported that many people with suspected COVID-19-related anosmia recover their sense of smell within 7-14 days.
- ENT UK. Loss of sense of smell as marker of COVID-19 infection. [Accessed March 27, 2020]. Available online at: https://www.entuk.org/sites/default/files/files/Loss%20of%20sense%20of%20smell%20as%20marker%20of%20COVID.pdf
- ENT UK. Advice for patients with new-onset anosmia during COVID-19 pandemic. March 22, 2020. Available online at: https://mcusercontent.com/e386d81be4a76bada89909666/files/2b18c56d-a34b-47a2-8b56-1bb21e225eb9/Advice_for_patients_with_new_onset_anosmia_during_COVID_19_pandemic.pdf
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). Steps to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 if you are sick. Available online at: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/if-you-are-sick/steps-when-sick.html [Accessed March 27, 2020].
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