Self-reported olfactory loss associates with outpatient clinical course in COVID-19

Int Forum Allergy Rhinol. 2020 Jul;10(7):821-831. doi: 10.1002/alr.22592. Epub 2020 Jun 7.


Background: Rapid spread of the severe acute respiratory syndrome-coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) virus has left many health systems around the world overwhelmed, forcing triaging of scarce medical resources. Identifying indicators of hospital admission for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) patients early in the disease course could aid the efficient allocation of medical interventions. Self-reported olfactory impairment has recently been recognized as a hallmark of COVID-19 and may be an important predictor of clinical outcome.

Methods: A retrospective review of all patients presenting to a San Diego Hospital system with laboratory-confirmed positive COVID-19 infection was conducted with evaluation of olfactory and gustatory function and clinical disease course. Univariable and multivariable logistic regression were performed to identify risk factors for hospital admission and anosmia.

Results: A total of 169 patients tested positive for COVID-19 disease between March 3 and April 8, 2020. Olfactory and gustatory data were obtained for 128 (75.7%) of 169 subjects, of which 26 (20.1%) of 128 required hospitalization. Admission for COVID-19 was associated with intact sense of smell and taste, increased age, diabetes, and subjective and objective parameters associated with respiratory failure. On adjusted analysis, anosmia was strongly and independently associated with outpatient care (adjusted odds ratio [aOR] 0.09; 95% CI, 0.01-0.74), whereas positive findings of pulmonary infiltrates and/or pleural effusion on chest radiograph (aOR 8.01; 95% CI, 1.12-57.49) was strongly and independently associated with admission.

Conclusion: Normosmia is an independent predictor of admission in COVID-19 cases. Smell loss in COVID-19 may be associated with a milder clinical course.

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

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Betacoronavirus
  • COVID-19
  • Coronavirus Infections / epidemiology*
  • Coronavirus Infections / pathology
  • Coronavirus Infections / physiopathology
  • Disease Progression
  • Female
  • Hospitalization
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Olfaction Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Olfaction Disorders / pathology
  • Olfaction Disorders / physiopathology
  • Pandemics
  • Pneumonia, Viral / epidemiology*
  • Pneumonia, Viral / pathology
  • Pneumonia, Viral / physiopathology
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Self Report