Background and objective: Since the initial anecdotal reports of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) from China, a growing number of studies have reported on smell and/or taste dysfunction (STD). Objective: The aim of our study was to investigate the frequency and severity of STD in COVID-19 patients and to evaluate the association with demographic characteristics, hospital admission, symptoms, comorbidities, and blood biomarkers.
Methods: We performed a multicenter cross-sectional study on patients who were positive for SARS-CoV-2 (n=846) and controls (n=143) from 15 Spanish hospitals. Data on STD were collected prospectively using an in-person survey. The severity of STD was categorized using a visual analog scale. We analyzed time to onset, recovery rate, time to recovery, hospital admission, pneumonia, comorbidities, smoking, and symptoms.
Results: STD was at least 2-fold more common in COVID-19-positive patients than in controls. COVID-19-positive hospitalized patients were older, with a lower frequency of STD, and recovered earlier than outpatients. Analysis stratified by severity of STD showed that more than half of COVID-19 patients presented severe loss of smell (53.7%) or taste (52.2%); both senses were impaired in >90%. In the multivariate analysis, older age (>60 years), being hospitalized, and increased C-reactive protein were associated with a better sense of smell and/or taste. COVID-19-positive patients reported improvement in smell (45.6%) and taste (46.1%) at the time of the survey; in 90.6% this was within 2 weeks of infection.
Conclusion: STD is a common symptom in COVID-19 and presents mainly in young and nonhospitalized patients. More studies are needed to evaluate follow-up of chemosensory impairment.
Keywords: COVID-19; Hospital admission; Loss of smell; Loss of taste; SARS-CoV-2.