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Loss of Sense of Smell Could Be Early Sign of Coronavirus Infection

HealthDay News
by By E.J. MundellHealthDay Reporter
Updated: Mar 24th 2020

new article illustration

TUESDAY, March 24, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- Here's a clue that you may have coronavirus that might surprise you: a loss of your sense of smell.

Groups representing ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialists in Britain and the United States have issued guidances that a sudden loss of a person's sense of smell may be a sign of infection with the new coronavirus.

It's not a completely unexpected finding, since a temporary inability to smell -- clinically called anosmia -- has been known to occur after certain viral infections, said the British doctors' group ENT UK.

In fact, "post-viral anosmia is one of the leading causes of loss of sense of smell in adults, accounting for up to 40% of cases of anosmia," the group said in a statement.

"Viruses that give rise to the common cold are well known to cause post-infectious loss [of smell]," the group said, and coronaviruses actually cause about 20% of colds.

Already, some cases of COVID-19 from China, South Korea and Italy have included a loss of smell as an early symptom, and "in Germany it is reported that more than two in three confirmed cases have anosmia," ENT UK said.

Often this loss of smell is the biggest symptom -- the group noted that in South Korea, it appeared as the major alerting symptom in 30% of mild cases. Other such cases have been reported worldwide, including in the United States.

Knowing that loss of smell is an early indicator of COVID-19 could be very useful in helping people who might otherwise feel fine self-quarantine, the ENT experts said.

In the United States, the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery (AAOS) concurred. In its own statement, the group said that both anosmia, hyposmia (a diminishment but not absence of smell ability) and a diminishment of the ability to taste -- dysgeusia -- all appear to be tied to infection with the new coronavirus.

"We propose that these symptoms be added to the list of screening tools for possible COVID-19 infection," the group said. If a person who didn't have conditions such as hay fever or chronic allergies did develop a sudden loss of taste or smell, that could "warrant serious consideration for self-isolation and testing of these individuals," the AAOS said.

Speaking with the Associated Press, Dr. Eric Holbrook, an expert on nasal and sinus conditions at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear hospital in Boston, said the issue has been a "hot topic" among ENT specialists.

He said more study is needed, but early indications are that a sense of smell does return within a couple of weeks among people who recover from COVID-19. Holbrook told the AP he is attempting to set up a study to follow the smell-coronavirus connection in patients treated in Boston-area hospitals.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on the new coronavirus.