Is losing your sense of smell a symptom of coronavirus?

  • Preliminary data suggests losing your sense of smell COULD be a symptom
  • The CDC and the WHO have not confirmed it
  • Doctors say to isolate yourself for seven days if you become smell blind
  • Losing your sense of smell is called anosmia

One of the most recent developments of coronavirus and the symptoms it causes is that a partial or complete loss of smell and taste could be a telltale sign of the disease—in addition to confirmed symptoms such as high fever, persistent cough, and shortness of breath.

Anosmia and ageusia—or, the inability to detect odors and a diminished sense of taste, respectfully—are now being reported by medical professionals in patients who have tested positive for the virus. This can evidently occur even in patients who are otherwise asymptomatic.

On March 20, British ear, nose, and throat doctors suggested that adults experiencing a loss of senses should isolate themselves for seven days, citing reports from colleagues around the world. Though agencies such as the CDC and WHO have yet to confirm that this is, indeed, a symptom, the preliminary data is enough for doctors to recommend exercising extra precautions.

Professor Claire Hopkins, president of the British Rhinological Society, warned that any adults experiencing recent anosmia or ageusia could potentially be carrying the virus, and should, therefore, consider self-isolating.

“We really want to raise awareness that this is a sign of infection and that anyone who develops loss of sense of smell should self-isolate,” Hopkins told the New York Times earlier this month. “It could contribute to slowing transmission and save lives.”

“This week, I saw nine patients that lost their sense of smell, which is unheard of in my practice. They were almost all under 40, and they were all told not to self-isolate,” she said, via the Washington Post. “The lack of awareness allows these people to carry on. This potentially gives us an opportunity to capture some of those people who are silent spreaders of disease. The patients I’m seeing haven’t had a cough or fever at all.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Rachel Kaye, assistant otolaryngology (head and neck surgery) professor at Rutgers University, added that the reason why “alarm bells are going off” is because there is a concentration of these signs in parts of the U.S. that have seen the most COVID-19 cases.

“I got a lot of, ‘Everything tastes like cardboard’ and ‘I can’t smell anything,’” Kaye told NPR. “Those patients did not demonstrate any of the other commonly cited COVID-19 symptoms.”

Sources: NY Times, Washington Post, NPR, ENT UK HealthCare

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