Health care workers are calling attention to a potential new symptom of a novel coronavirus infection: the loss of one’s sense of smell.

Clinicians in the U.S. and elsewhere around the world have reported, anecdotally, that some patients infected with the virus experience anosmia, or an inability to smell. The American Academy of Otolaryngology recently called for anosmia to be added to a list of screening tools for Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus. On Monday, World Health Organization officials announced they were further probing a possible link between anosmia and coronavirus — though they noted the evidence of a potential connection remains preliminary.

“A loss of smell or a loss of taste is something that we’re looking into,” Maria Van Kerkhove, the head of WHO’s emerging diseases and zoonoses unit, said on a briefing call with reporters on Monday. “We are reaching out to a number of countries and looking at the cases that have already been reported to see if this is a common feature. We don’t have the answer to that yet.”

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There are a number of unanswered questions about the new potential symptom, which at this point, is thought to be temporary. Experts aren’t sure how common it is, or at what point in the progression of the disease a patient loses the ability to smell. They also want to be sure the new symptom isn’t merely a sign of allergies, a cold, or the seasonal flu, all of which can lead a person to develop anosmia or ageusia, the reduced sense of taste that can sometimes accompany an inability to smell.

“It’s certainly popping up as a symptom, but how universal it is, we don’t know,” said Eric Holbrook, director of rhinology at Massachusetts Eye and Ear, a Boston hospital. Holbrook said he started hearing about the possible tie between anosmia and coronavirus in case reports from clinicians in Europe about a week ago.

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Those reports are among a growing amount of anecdotal evidence that suggests experts might want to consider anosmia as a potential sign of infection. In report published on March 16 in the South Korean newspaper Chosun, clinicians estimated that roughly 30% of patients who tested positive for coronavirus had temporarily lost their sense of smell. In Germany, clinicians at the University Hospital in Bonn surveyed 100 patients with coronavirus and found that up to two-thirds “described a loss of smell and taste lasting several days,” Hendrik Streeck, head of the hospital’s virology institute, told the German news site Frankfurter Allgemeine.

The known symptoms of Covid-19 have evolved as cases have climbed globally. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists fever, cough, and shortness of breath as the core coronavirus symptoms. Difficulty breathing, persistent chest pain or pressure, confusion, and bluish lips or face are listed as emergency symptoms for which people should seek immediate care. The WHO says other symptoms can include tiredness, fatigue, and in some patients, “aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat, or diarrhea.”

The WHO and CDC haven’t added anosmia to their coronavirus symptom lists, which health care workers use to screen patients who might have been infected with coronavirus. But some health care workers are encouraging their peers to consider the symptom when caring for patients they suspect might have be infected.

“I wouldn’t use it alone [to screen patients], but I think if it’s added to some of the other symptoms, it adds to the possibility,” said Holbrook. “If someone says yes, it would definitely make me more suspicious that they need further work-up.”

Using the new symptom as a screening tool is a delicate task, experts noted. Emphasizing it too early, or too heavily, could mean clinicians might miss patients who haven’t lost their sense of smell, but who are infected and have other symptoms. Ignoring a lost sense of smell, however, could mean doctors don’t detect infection in cases where patients have only mild symptoms or are asymptomatic. In those cases, using anosmia as a screening tool could help clinicians catch cases that would otherwise fly under the radar and give those infected individuals more guidance on self-isolation.

But to do that, clinicians need more data on the role anosmia might play in Covid-19.

“One of the things I think a lot of physicians and patients are struggling with is trying to determine whether these mild symptoms are related to, say, allergies or a mild cold,” Holbrook said. He added that it’s also difficult to distinguish between a loss of the sense of smell and a loss of the sense of taste, which patients can sometimes mix up.

“But anything that gives us a heads-up into who needs to be isolated or tested, that might be a good screening tool,” Holbrook said.

To get a better handle on the new symptom and its ties to coronavirus, Holbrook said he and his colleagues will be looking at people with anosmia and confirmed Covid-19, as well as those experiencing anosmia who have tested negative. That will allow them to compare both groups and understand whether anosmia is truly a core coronavirus symptom.

“That’s important data — data that we need. Many of us are trying to start doing those studies,” Holbrook said.

Helen Branswell contributed reporting.

An earlier version of this article mischaracterized South Korean research about anosmia. It was a non peer-reviewed report which suggested that roughly 30% of South Koreans with Covid-19 lose their sense of smell, not a Nature study.

  • Hey, I am from London UK. I had mild symptoms for 2 days: headache, tired, fever, aches, chills, heaviness, sporadic cough and abdominal pain. I am fine now (sometimes feel strange and pressure on the chest when night falls) but it’s been 5 days I have lost taste and smell. Hope it will get back ! I am happy to answer your questions.

  • Hi All, same has happened to me, i live in North wales and i’m finding more and more people have the loss of smell and taste, i’ve had it before but not for this long.. i’ve felt light headed and still do from time to time. its very odd and like most i’m putting it down to a head cold albeit i can breathe ok. been taking sinutab and beechams powder. sinuses have been burning.feeling tired. definitely not right is it?

  • I’m 22 years old and I live in Houston, this is the 5th day of not having no smell or taste, I was in denial at first because I never had this problem before EVER . I’ve took Benadryl, nasal spray, vitamin c, and I just bought some Allegra , I even poured salt water into my nostrils . Nothing has worked , I’m starting to think this is definitely a symptom because i can breath perfectly fine and I don’t feel any pains it’s literally just no smell or taste and I’m starting to feel a little helpless because their just tossing people with these symptoms to the side and who knows how bad this can get and I’m already young, never really been sick and I don’t have insurance so I’m not sure when I’ll ever get better but I’m going to keep taking my vitamins and hopefully this passes over .

  • Just to say I too am in the UK.
    I have lost my sense of smell before, like this with a winter ailment…it does come back.
    A few years ago I thought it was a good idea to have flu jabs…at Boots. I am not sure if past flu jabs have any long term affect on how one’s body reacts to viruses going forward….but I know the dryness and the loosing smell never happened to me prior to having winter flu jabs. I have no underlying medical condition and only had flu jabs as I thought being a mum the last thing my family need is me unable to get out of bed and function should I ever get the flu (proper i.e. not man-flu).

  • I am 51, living with family of 2 teens + husband. We have not had temperature but a general feeling of malaise, for 2.5 weeks. It waxes and wanes with energy levels being OK in the morning (after a deep sleep), but by 3pm you can feel the levels dropping off. By 7pm we are slightly “zombie-fied” , stiff, flattened, achy and can notice any drafts or chills in the house more readily…probably we are finished off by the final push to make the evening meal and clear up afterwards.
    My skin has become extraordinarily dry, with almost eczema on my elbows. Have no sense of smell at all and taste buds are reduced. No sore throat, no cough, my lungs are a clear as a bell. I have red-hair (ginger gene) so not sure if this has any bearing – when I get a cold it never goes to my chest…always my sinus/nose/throat. I’d love to know whether this is Covid-19…we are treating it as such in the house…and driving each other nuts in the process.

  • I’ve been bad synthoms for the last 2 weeks. 4 days ago I have lost all taste and smell capacity…. today started a intense diahrrea… does anyone is with diaherrea too?

    • Hi Diego Franco
      Yes I also had diarrhoea it started on approx 5th day & lasted for about 3/4 days also not normal colour (sorry to be so explicit, but it may help)

    • Hi Diego Franco
      Yes I also experienced diarrhoea on approx 5th day it lasted 3/4 days & it wasn’t normal colour (sorry to be so explicit but thought it may help) I am now on day 17 (still in isolation) but feel absolutely fine except I still have Zero taste & smell.

    • I didn’t think there was any connection with Diarrhoea & Covid -19 as no one else had mentioned it , I thought it was down to the large amount of iced water I had been drinking ( due to having zero taste) but I am now wondering if this is yet another symptom??
      Please update if anyone else has experienced lack of Smell & Taste accompanied with unusual bowel movements.

  • Hi Lesley & Donna
    Many thanks to you for your replies, your info was helpful & reassuring knowing that I am not alone in this, to be honest I think people with these symptoms could definitely be the silent spreaders which is not a nice position to be in, & I so wish the lack of these senses be added to the symptoms being published everywhere, I am 100% convinced this lack of smell & taste is nothing to do with my sinuses & is a definite connection to Covid-19 Virus.
    If possible please could you let me know if & when your senses return & if you hear of any other helpful info, i would gratefully appreciate it
    Thank you for taking the time to reply it has helped me a lot. 🤗 xx

  • I mentioned earlier about my complete loss of taste & smell, I am a 63yr old female from the North East of the U.K., I am now on day 17 with zero taste & smell & no signs of it returning, like Lisa mine also started first day with slight sinus pain & sneezing & just felt tired for a couple of days, I rang GP on 5th day & was told it was Blocked Sinuses, (Never suffered with my Sinuses before in my life) I tried all remedies for blocked sinuses even though they weren’t blocked. On 11th day as still zero taste & smell but no other symptoms, I spoke to another Gp in my practise & again I was told this is blocked Sinuses even though I could breathe clearly with no blocked nose, I was extremely concerned but was assured it was not Coronavirus as I hadn’t had a high temp or cough. On day 15 I had to go to the Surgery for blood tests ( I have type 2 diabetes) I mentioned to the nurse about my zero taste & smell, the following morning I got a telephone call from the senior GP partner informing me that she had received an email that morning informing her that some ENT scientists now think there is a connection with no smell & or taste. With Corvid 19. I was told to self isolate for 14 days (which I had already been doing) but my main concern is, If it has been Coronavirus, have I still got the Virus whilst I still have Zero taste & smell & can I still spread it to others or is this a permanent thing that the virus has left me with. As at the the moment the Uk is not testing anyone who isn’t hospitalised, I don’t suppose I will get any answers soon.
    I would love to know if anyone else has lost there taste & smell for 17 days or longer, & if they have any helpful info, I am seriously thinking this is going to be permanent. I am now self isolating for 12 wks.
    My husband has had similar symptoms but he didn’t lose his taste & smell completely & his is starting to return.

    • I am in the US. My son came to visit from New York and had some kind of cold, said he was getting better. I apologized for the smell in the house due to several pets and he said he couldn’t smell it. A few days later, I was cooking and he said he could faintly smell something. He said he wasn’t able to smell or taste anything for a week or two. He was so happy he could smell again, even though it was very faint. He referred to his cold as something he’d never had before. We didn’t think it was coronavirus at the time, it was early January. But now maybe it could have been, or just a different kind of cold virus that happens to be going around now. His sister in law is now experiencing the same thing, can’t smell or taste anything. He never went to a doctor, he’s in his early 30’s, wasn’t feeling bad enough, just thought he had a bad cold or flu and maybe that’s all it was. He does have full sense of smell and taste now, but didn’t until he fully recovered. Hopefully your situation will turn out the same. I wish you well.

    • Hi Sue, I’ve had much the same symptoms as you and have had no smell or taste for around 14 days now. I was at work whilst not feeling too good but it was before we were told about self-isolating etc . I can’t actually pin point when I lost these senses, I just suddenly became aware of it! My question is the same as yours. As I now feel fine apart from this should we be in isolation. I can’t seem to see anything definitive about this.

    • Hi sue , had symptoms of no smell and taste since Friday well Friday was when I noticed about my food not tasting. Not sure if it’s a symptom of covid 19 but I honestly think that it is, other symptoms for me are I’m cold one minute and then hot the next . Yesterday I had two layers of clothing , two blankets just keep warm , then had to remove layers to cool down . I have had a dry tickly cough which today I’m on day 6 of isolating I feel I have more energy so hopefully on the mend now.

  • I a 44 year old female in the UK, also no sense of taste or smell for the last 7 days. Started a week ago with headaches and sinus pressure, sneezing. No more sinus pain or headaches but my taste and smell has not returned which is very concerning. Has anyone recently recovered from this?

    • Lisa.
      Like my pervious comments, I too lost taste and smell functions about 6 days ago. Today I’ve noticed a small improvement, I could actually smell hand sanitizer (only just) so I’m hoping it’s something that will return. The UK medical seems to be fixated on fever and cough as indications for covid19. No one seems concerned that there are clearly other symptoms that people need to know about to help decisions on self isolating.
      Until such time a test is availble to tell you if you’ve had the virus, I doubt we will ever know if the loss of taste and smell is a symptom.

  • I doubt they will test you for those two symptoms alone, they seem to be hoarding tests for the severely ill. Assume you are all infected, especially since two people came from NYC 10 days ago. I’m from NYC and that seems to be around when I was infected as well. I am on day 6 of no smell or taste. I’m reading it can linger from 9-14 days. You all have to be quarantined now, no one in or out, I would say for a couple weeks to be safe. Watch for any escalation in symptoms, get rest, stay hydrated, don’t forget to eat (I was forgetting), and take daily vitamins if you have them.

    • I live in the United Kingdom, I experienced a sudden loss of taste & smell 16 days ago, but no other symptoms, my GP told me to self isolate for 14 days, which I did, yet I still have zero taste & smell but do not know if I still have or had the Coronavirus & should I still self isolate. Has anyone else experienced the same.

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