By now, we’re all familiar with the main symptoms of COVID-19: fever, body aches, dry cough, breathing difficulty. But for some people, additional symptoms include a loss of smell and taste; these can occur even in the absence of any other symptoms.
Anosmia and ageusia (the medical terms for loss of smell and taste) are unusual but telling signs of COVID-19 and may indicate infection, according to health care professionals. As a result, ear, nose and throat doctors in Great Britain are urging adults who experience any sudden, unexplainable loss of smell and taste to self-isolate for seven days, even if no other symptoms are present, in order to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
The recommendation, dispatched on the American Academy of Otolaryngology’s COVID-19 site (via the New York Times) is based on numerous reports showing that large numbers of patients infected with the virus are experiencing anosmia, and point to South Korea, where 30 percent of patients who tested positive reported a loss of smell as their main symptom. In another study, about half of all patients who tested positive for COVID-19 in Germany showed a loss of smell or taste, often before any other symptoms appeared.
The silver lining? All patients regained their ability to smell and taste within a few days or weeks.
The American Academy of Otolaryngology agrees, stating that there is increasing evidence of a link between loss of smell and taste and COVID-19. They recommend that doctors treating individuals with these symptoms who do not have a history of allergies or sinusitis should be tested and urged to self-isolate.
Ear, nose and throat doctors are considered to be one of the highest-risk groups due to their treatment of upper airway problems. COVID-19 replicates in the nose and throat, and exams can produce coughs and sneezes that expose health care professionals. In China, Italy and Iran, otolaryngologists are experiencing high rates of infection, leading experts to urge against all non-essential sinus endoscopy procedures and to rely heavily on personal protective equipment.