3 Things You Should Know About Loss Of Smell And COVID-19

by Kroger Health Staff

Last Updated: September 10, 2020

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, we are learning more and more about the virus each day. Initially presumed to be a respiratory disease, cough and fever were early indications of infection. Now, as the United States enters the sixth month of dealing with this novel coronavirus, researchers are discovering more about symptoms that may indicate infection even earlier than cough and fever. Here’s what you need to know:
  1. Loss of smell is one of the most commonly reported symptoms of COVID-19. Although the world's ears have perked each time someone has coughed for the past several months, coughing may not be the best indicator of the virus in those around you. According to a study conducted by Harvard Medical School, loss of smell may be a better indicator of COVID-19 than any other known symptom. It is also one of the earliest and most commonly reported symptoms. In the early phases of the virus, when loss of smell was originally reported as a symptom, the reasoning, although not entirely clear, was thought to be related to congestion caused by the virus.
  2. Smell loss is likely not permanent. Recently, a team of Harvard neuroscientists found that COVID-19 may be affecting the vulnerable olfactory cells and neurons which transmit the sense of smell to the brain. It is believed the virus does not directly damage the systems that allow humans to smell, but rather impedes or temporarily stops the process. This finding furthers the argument that COVID-19 may be an inflammatory disease as opposed to a respiratory one, as originally thought. Because the virus affects the supporting cells of smell function and not the neurons directly, the risk of permanent effects are small, but not insignificant. Studies from Penn Medicine show that smell is likely to return within two to four weeks, with about 25% of those experiencing loss of smell for a longer period.
  3. Younger patients may be more likely to experience loss of smell. A study conducted in Ireland found that younger patients are more likely to experience smell loss as a symptom of the coronavirus than older patients. While this study only analyzed a small subset of patients, further research is underway to find more conclusive evidence. Researchers are also measuring the severity of the infection and the correlation to smell loss in different age groups.

With more information unfolding every day about the global COVID-19 pandemic, it is more important than ever to take precautions to protect yourself and your loved ones. Whether you are experiencing multiple symptoms, or none at all, wearing a mask, practicing social distancing, and washing your hands frequently are all preventative measures everyone can implement to prevent further spread of the virus.

Disclaimer: The information in this story is accurate as of its publication. However, the situation surrounding COVID-19 is ever-evolving. We are working to keep our stories up-to-date as changes occur, but we also encourage everyone to check news and recommendations from the CDC, WHO, and their local authorities.