As more and more people are becoming infected by the novel coronavirus, there has been a spike in people reporting a loss of or altered sense of smell, and subsequently taste.
In Germany, for example, more than 2 in 3 confirmed COVID-19 cases have anosmia, a partial or complete loss of smell. In South Korea, where testing has been more widespread, 30% of patients testing positive have had anosmia as their major presenting symptom in otherwise mild cases.
Although the symptom is not as common as cough, fever and shortness of breath, it may be an additional identifier for patients infected with COVID-19 in the absence of a known cause for the smell disorder. Furthermore, as the symptom is also appearing in otherwise healthy people, it could be a vital indicator of whether someone is carrying the virus unknowingly.
Read on to learn more about the symptom, its possible causes and what you should do if you have it.
What is anosmia?
Anosmia is the loss or altered sense of smell. It often presents with dysgeusia, an altered sense of taste, as taste is largely driven by our sense of smell.
What causes anosmia?
Our sense of smell is largely controlled by nerves that sit on the interior lining of the nose, which transmit information about what you're smelling (such as flowers or smoke) to your brain.
When inflammation – say, from a virus – occurs, it can damage these delicate nerve endings and decrease their ability to transmit what external particles are telling the nose. As a result, there's no transmission of this information, which leads to anosmia.
Anosmia could be a symptom of coronavirus, but it can also be caused by other conditions such as:
How long will it last?
The symptom of anosmia from a viral illness is typically sudden and does not often respond to treatment with steroids or antiviral medications.
Patients with the symptom could recover their sense of smell fully within a couple weeks of its onset, but there have also been cases in which individuals never regain their full sense of smell.
While it is too early to determine how patients affected by COVID-19 will recover, given what’s known about the symptom, it’s reasonable to assume that they should do as well as patients affected by the seasonal flu in years past.
For the latest updates on COVID-19, visit Ochsner.org/coronavirus.
What should I do if I experience a loss of smell or taste?
Individuals who are very symptomatic should be screened, treated and confined to quarantine. But even if anosmia is your own symptom, you should still self-isolate and stay home.
Do not go to a healthcare facility unannounced. Instead, Call the Ochsner COVID-19 Info Line, our free nurse care line at 1-866-703-7790. A healthcare professional will help you determine if you meet the criteria for COVID-19 testing and provide next steps.
You might also consider booking a virtual visit via Ochsner Anywhere Care to further discuss your anosmia and any other nasal symptoms that might indicate other causes of smell loss.
The information in this blog post is accurate at the time of publication. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to change, it's possible that information has changed since being published. While Ochsner Health is trying to keep our blog posts as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations by using the CDC website.