A lost sense of smell may be a far more common coronavirus symptom than previously thought, study finds

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  • An analysis of 2,013 coronavirus patients found that 87% of these patients lost their sense of smell and 56% lost their sense of taste.
  • Knowing loss of smell and taste are symptoms is useful for doctors looking to diagnose cases of COVID-19.
  • This is one of the first analyses to focus specifically on these two symptoms.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

They were only recently added to the CDC’s official list of coronavirus symptoms, but new research suggests a loss of smell and taste may be far more common among patients than previously thought.

A research letter from the Annals of Internal Medicine examined 2,013 European patients with COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, and found that 87% of these patients lost their sense of smell and 56% lost their sense of taste.

This is one of the first analyses to focus on these symptoms, which were overlooked in initial coronavirus studies, and the study authors say it could help doctors to better identify COVID-19 patients, and take swift action.

“These findings highlight the importance of considering loss of smell and taste in the diagnosis of mild to moderate COVID-19,” the study authors wrote.

Smell

The patients in this study were not critically ill. Only 8% were hospitalized, and most only had symptoms for 11-and-a-half days. Nearly two-thirds (60.9%) of the patients regained their sense of smell within two weeks.

Respiratory diseases often involve loss of smell or taste

These symptoms were also reported during the 2003 SARS outbreak. Other respiratory diseases like the flu or the common cold will also involve similar losses of smell or taste.

“This annoying and temporary symptom is likely due to inflammation of the nasal passages and associated infection of the nasal nerve cells responsible for smell,” Robert L. Quigley, MD, senior vice president and medical director for International SOS, previously told Insider.

That lost sense of smell will likely return after recovery, as it did for most patients who lost their sense of smell or taste with cases of the flu or the common cold.

For some, loss of smell may be the only sign of COVID-19. Patients in South Korea, China, and Italy only experienced a loss of smell, without any of the other more common symptoms, like coughing, sneezing, or trouble breathing.

Some have theorised that younger people may have different coronavirus symptoms than adults as an explanation for why some people’s only symptom is the loss of smell or taste.

If you experience a sudden loss of smell or taste, you might have the novel coronavirus, even if you’re experiencing no other symptoms.