Sudden onset, acute loss of taste and smell in coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19): a systematic review

Acta Odontol Scand. 2020 Aug;78(6):467-473. doi: 10.1080/00016357.2020.1787505. Epub 2020 Aug 7.


Background: Early detection, isolation and management of COVID-19 are crucial to contain the current pandemic. US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently included 'sudden loss of taste (dysgeusia/ageusia) and smell (anosmia/hyposmia)' as symptoms of COVID-19. If indeed these symptoms are reliable and specific forerunner symptoms of COVID-19, then it may facilitate detection and containment of the disease. Hence, we systematically evaluated the contemporary evidence on dysgeusia and anosmia as trigger prodromal symptoms, and their prevalence in COVID-19 patients.

Methods: Ovid MEDLINE, EBSCO host and Web of Science databases were searched between 25 December 2019 and 30 May 2020.

Results: Of the 13 identified records, eight studies, totalling 11,054 COVID-19 patients, were included, as per the selection criteria. Eligible articles reflected research conducted mostly in the European community, as well as China, the US and Iran. In total, anosmia and dysgeusia symptoms were present in 74.9% and 81.3% ambulatory as well as hospitalized, mild-to-severe cases of COVID-19 patients, respectively. The European, US and Iran data indicate olfactory and gustatory symptoms appear prior to general COVID-19 symptoms in 64.5% and 54.0% of the patients, respectively.

Conclusions: To our knowledge, this is the first systematic review analysing the meager data based on the prevalence of chemosensory dysfunction in COVID-19. Critical analysis of such macro-data, as and when available, is essential to evaluate their utility as harbingers of COVID-19 onset, and to establish clinical practice guidelines both in dentistry and medicine.

Keywords: COVID-19; Loss of taste; SARS-CoV-2; anosmia; chemosensory dysfunction; dysgeusia; loss of smell.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

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