Can’t stop and smell the roses? Got no taste . . . literally? Experts say a loss of these two senses might be an early sign of pandemic virus infection. But on the bright side, some think the loss might help doctors screen for the coronavirus.
Some viral infections can cause of loss of smell. That’s because nasal inflammation can hinder airflow and the ability to detect odors. The sense of smell usually returns when the infection clears up. But in a few cases, smell loss can continue. In some cases, it’s permanent.
Now, there’s “good evidence” about the connection between the new coronavirus and loss of smell and taste. A group of British ear, nose, and throat doctors studied infected patients in South Korea, China, and Italy. They screened the people for loss of smell. In South Korea, some 30% of those who tested positive for the coronavirus cited loss of smell as the major complaint in otherwise mild cases.
So screening for smell might be useful in spotting infected people without other symptoms—fever, coughing, and shortness of breath—of coronavirus, the doctors say.
American doctors also note “rapidly accumulating” evidence from around the world that the pandemic disease can cause not only loss of smell but also a diminished sense of taste. The appearance of such symptoms in people without another explanation should alert medical staff to the possibility of a COVID-19 infection.
Dr. Eric Holbrook, an expert on nasal and sinus disease in Boston, says the reports have been a hot topic among researchers and doctors. The reports he’s seen suggest the sense of smell returns within a couple weeks. But exactly how long the loss could last isn’t known.
“We don’t have hard evidence right now,” Holbrook says, about how often smell loss occurs in people infected with the pandemic virus.
He also notes that it’s difficult to measure loss of taste—mostly because people with a poor sense of smell often report a loss of taste. Holbrook and others are working to distinguish between got-a-cold-and-nothing-has-flavor bad taste and the much more serious coronavirus kind.
(People maintain physical distance to buy groceries outside a store during the coronavirus pandemic in Mumbai, India, on Wednesday, March 25, 2020. AP Photo/Rajanish Kakade)