Evolution of Altered Sense of Smell or Taste in Patients With Mildly Symptomatic COVID-19

JAMA Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2020 Aug 1;146(8):729-732. doi: 10.1001/jamaoto.2020.1379.


Importance: An altered sense of smell and taste has been reported to be associated with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). To understand the evolution of these symptoms during the course of the disease is important to identify patients with persistent loss of smell or taste and estimate the impact of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection on the burden of olfactory and gustative dysfunctions.

Objective: To evaluate the evolution of the loss of sense of smell and taste in a case series of mildly symptomatic patients with SARS-CoV-2 infection.

Design, setting, and participants: This cross-sectional survey-based study included 202 mildly symptomatic adults (≥18 years) consecutively assessed at Treviso Regional Hospital, Italy, between March 19 and March 22, 2020, who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 RNA by polymerase chain reaction on nasopharyngeal and throat swabs.

Main outcomes and measures: Prevalence of altered sense of smell and taste at follow-up and their variation from baseline.

Results: Of 202 patients completing the survey at baseline, 187 (92.6%) also completed the follow-up survey (103 [55.1%] women; median age, 56 years). The evaluation of the evolution of altered sense of smell or taste in the 113 patients reporting sudden onset of these symptoms at baseline showed that 55 patients (48.7%; 95% CI, 39.2-58.3) reported complete resolution of smell or taste impairment, 46 (40.7%; 95% CI, 31.6-50.4) reported an improvement in the severity, and only 12 (10.6%; 95% CI, 5.6-17.8) reported the symptom was unchanged or worse. Persistent loss of smell or taste was not associated with persistent SARS-CoV-2 infection.

Conclusions and relevance: At 4 weeks from the onset, 89% of the SARS-CoV-2-positive mildly symptomatic patients who had had a sudden onset of altered sense of smell or taste experienced a complete resolution or improvement of these symptoms. Persistent loss of smell or taste was not associated with persistent SARS-CoV-2 infection.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • COVID-19 / complications*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Italy / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Olfaction Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Olfaction Disorders / virology*
  • Prevalence
  • Prospective Studies
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Taste Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Taste Disorders / virology*
  • Young Adult