Loss of Smell and Taste Could Be Early Sign of Coronavirus/COVID-19

Have you noticed you’ve lost your ability to smell and taste? Doctors are beginning to think that could be an early indicator of a coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) infection.

While there are no peer-reviewed studies to show that COVID-19 has an effect on a person’s senses, UNC rhinologist Brent Senior, MD, says loss of smell (anosmia) and the accompanying reduced sense of taste (ageusia) may be the first signs of COVID-19.

Doctors are learning about this possible connection alongside the public as the pandemic unfolds, Dr. Senior says.

“Specifically, sinus doctors (rhinologists) have been posting on online forums that they are seeing more and more COVID-19 patients presenting with asymptomatic disease and just loss of sense of smell,” he says.

What this means is that there are COVID-19 patients who have lost their sense of smell but don’t have the typical COVID-19 symptoms such as fever, cough or shortness of breath. For example, Dr. Senior says his colleagues in the United Kingdom have seen patients who could not smell their baby’s soiled diapers but otherwise felt fine. These patients tested positive for COVID-19.

“That’s why the alarm bell is being raised. This may be an indicator that something is going on before they develop other signs of infection,” Dr. Senior says. “It does seem like it’s possible that these are symptoms are the very, very early indicators of a COVID-19 infection,” Dr. Senior says.

If you experience a loss of smell or taste, Dr. Senior suggests you call your doctor to be evaluated.

“There is enough evidence at this point to suggest that they probably should seek out testing,” Dr. Senior says.

The British Rhinological Society and British Association of Otorhinolaryngology put out a joint statement that said sudden loss of smell could indicate hidden carriers of COVID-19 and that anyone experiencing these symptoms should self-isolate for seven days to prevent the further spread of the disease.

Dr. Senior says he is working with the ear nose and throat and rhinology societies in the United States to recommend loss of smell and taste be added to the list of symptoms healthcare providers are using to determine who may have COVID-19.

For the latest information on COVID-19, visit the CDC website and the UNC Health COVID-19 Resources page, and follow UNC Health on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.