Early recovery following new onset anosmia during the COVID-19 pandemic - an observational cohort study

J Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2020 May 4;49(1):26. doi: 10.1186/s40463-020-00423-8.


Background: A rapidly evolving evidence suggests that smell and taste disturbance are common symptoms in COVID-19 infection. As yet there are no reports on duration and recovery rates. We set out to characterise patients reporting new onset smell and taste disturbance during the COVID-19 pandemic and report on early recovery rates.

Methods: Online Survey of patients reporting self-diagnosed new onset smell and taste disturbance during the COVID-19 pandemic, with 1 week follow-up.

Results: Three hundred eighty-two patents completed bot an initial and follow-up survey. 86.4% reported complete anosmia and a further 11.5% a very severe loss of smell at the time of completing the first survey. At follow-up 1 week later, there is already significant improvement in self-rating of severity of olfactory loss. 80.1% report lower severity scores at follow-up, 17.6% are unchanged and 1.9% are worse. 11.5% already report compete resolution at follow up, while 17.3% report persistent complete loss of smell, with reported duration being 1 to over 4 weeks. This is reflected in the overall cumulative improvement rate of 79% patients overall in the interval between surveys.

Conclusions: A review of the growing evidence base supports the likelihood that out cohort have suffered olfactory loss as part of COVID-19 infection. While early recovery rates are encouraging, long term rates will need to be further investigated and there may be an increase in patients with persistent post-viral loss as a result of the pandemic. We further call for loss of sense of smell to be formerly recognised as a marker of COVID-19 infection.

Keywords: Anosmia; COVID-19; Epidemiology; Olfactory dysfunction.

Publication types

  • Observational Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Betacoronavirus
  • COVID-19
  • Cohort Studies
  • Coronavirus Infections / complications*
  • Coronavirus Infections / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Olfaction Disorders / epidemiology
  • Olfaction Disorders / etiology*
  • Pandemics
  • Pneumonia, Viral / complications*
  • Pneumonia, Viral / epidemiology
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Smell
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult