Self-reported alteration of sense of smell or taste in patients with COVID-19: a systematic review and meta-analysis on 3563 patients

Rhinology. 2020 Oct 1;58(5):430-436. doi: 10.4193/Rhin20.185.


Background: Emerging reports suggest that new onset of smell or taste loss are potential early clinical markers of SARS-CoV-2 infection, but it remains unclear as to what extent. Therefore, the purpose of this study is to systematically assess the prevalence of self-reported altered sense of smell or taste in patients with confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection, overcoming the limitations of individual studies by meta-analysis of pooled data.

Methods: The databases Medline, Embase, Web of Science, Scopus and MedRxiv's set were searched from inception to the 4th May 2020. This study was conducted following the PRISMA checklist.

Results: 18 studies met the eligibility criteria out of the 171 initially screened citations. The overall prevalence of alteration of the sense of smell or taste was 47% , but estimates were 31% and 67% in severe and mild-to-moderate symptomatic patients, respec- tively. The loss of smell and taste preceded other symptoms in 20% of cases and it was concomitant in 28%.

Conclusions: Based on this meta-analysis, we recommend self-isolation and testing, where possible, for patients complaining smell or taste impairment during COVID-19 pandemic in order to prevent spread of disease and propose the inclusion of loss of smell and taste as recognized symptoms of SARS-CoV-2 in the World Health Organization and other relevant regulatory body's lists.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Betacoronavirus
  • COVID-19
  • Coronavirus Infections / complications*
  • Humans
  • Olfaction Disorders / virology*
  • Pandemics
  • Pneumonia, Viral / complications*
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Self Report
  • Smell
  • Taste
  • Taste Disorders / virology*