Scientists confirm strong connection between COVID-19 and loss of smell

Credit: UC Merced

In a new study, researchers found that about 70% of people with COVID-19 suddenly lose their sense of smell, although fewer of them seem to realize it.

They have uncovered patterns that could help future coronavirus researchers.

The research was conducted by a team at the University of California – Merced and elsewhere.

People with colds and flu report losing their senses of smell and taste, too, but COVID-19 is not the cold or flu, and sufferers don’t usually have congested noses.

In the study, the team collected and carefully read academic papers produced about COVID-19. They set specific criteria for which papers would be included in a meta-analysis.

The goals were to produce an estimate of the prevalence of smell loss because of COVID-19 and to examine differences in the reported prevalence based on the method used to collect the data.

Once the researchers started gathering data, they realized something was particular about COVID-19.

They found that the objective tests showed 70% of people lost their sense of smell; however, self-report tests showed that only about 50% of people claimed to have an olfactory deficit.

The team says people don’t tend to have the same awareness of their sense of smell as other senses. They don’t always have the language to describe it. People often mistake the sense of smell for the sense of taste.

This is important work because it has the potential to reveal the virus’s activity in the body and because the loss of smell potentially has major impacts on the quality of life in survivors.

Though the research shows the loss of smell is common, what it does not uncover yet is how long that loss lasts.

The smell dysfunction is unique to COVID-19 when compared to other respiratory viruses.

To continue reporting findings, the team created a website that is updated daily with new data for other scientists to explore, including a global map showing the sources of new surveys added.

One author of the study is Vicente Ramirez.

The study is published in Chemical Senses.

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