Association of Chemosensory Dysfunction and COVID-19 in Patients Presenting With Influenza-Like Symptoms

Int Forum Allergy Rhinol. 2020 Jul;10(7):806-813. doi: 10.1002/alr.22579. Epub 2020 Jun 1.


Background: Rapid spread of the severe acute respiratory syndrome-coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) and concern for viral transmission by ambulatory patients with minimal to no symptoms underline the importance of identifying early or subclinical symptoms of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) infection. Two such candidate symptoms include anecdotally reported loss of smell and taste. Understanding the timing and association of smell/taste loss in COVID-19 may help facilitate screening and early isolation of cases.

Methods: A single-institution, cross-sectional study evaluating patient-reported symptoms with a focus on smell and taste was conducted using an internet-based platform on adult subjects who underwent testing for COVID-19. Logistic regression was employed to identify symptoms associated with COVID-19 positivity.

Results: A total of 1480 patients with influenza-like symptoms underwent COVID-19 testing between March 3, 2020, and March 29, 2020. Our study captured 59 of 102 (58%) COVID-19-positive patients and 203 of 1378 (15%) COVID-19-negative patients. Smell and taste loss were reported in 68% (40/59) and 71% (42/59) of COVID-19-positive subjects, respectively, compared to 16% (33/203) and 17% (35/203) of COVID-19-negative patients (p < 0.001). Smell and taste impairment were independently and strongly associated with COVID-19 positivity (anosmia: adjusted odds ratio [aOR] 10.9; 95% CI, 5.08-23.5; ageusia: aOR 10.2; 95% CI, 4.74-22.1), whereas sore throat was associated with COVID-19 negativity (aOR 0.23; 95% CI, 0.11-0.50). Of patients who reported COVID-19-associated loss of smell, 74% (28/38) reported resolution of anosmia with clinical resolution of illness.

Conclusion: In ambulatory individuals with influenza-like symptoms, chemosensory dysfunction was strongly associated with COVID-19 infection and should be considered when screening symptoms. Most will recover chemosensory function within weeks, paralleling resolution of other disease-related symptoms.

Keywords: COVID-19; patient outcomes; smell loss; taste loss.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural