Surveying Chemosensory Dysfunction in COVID-19

Chem Senses. 2020 Oct 9;45(7):509-511. doi: 10.1093/chemse/bjaa048.


Soon after the outbreak of COVID-19, reports that smell and taste are disrupted by the illness drew the attention of chemosensory scientists and clinicians throughout the world. While other upper respiratory viruses are known to produce such disruptions, their occurrence with the deadly and highly infectious SARS-CoV-2 virus raised new questions about the nature of the deficits, their cause, and whether they might serve as indicators of the onset of the disease. Published in the July and August 2020 issues of Chemical Senses are 2 innovative, large-scale survey studies that were quickly devised and launched by separate multinational groups to address these questions in olfaction, taste, and chemesthesis. The surveys, which took different approaches and had somewhat different goals, add significant new data on the incidence and severity of smell loss in COVID-19, and the potential for olfactory dysfunction to serve as an indicator of the spread and severity of the disease. Less definitive evidence of the frequency, characteristics, and magnitude of disruptions in taste and chemesthesis point to the need for future survey studies that combine and refine the strengths of the present ones, as well as clinical studies designed to selectively measure deficits in all 3 chemosensory systems.

Keywords: COVID-19; chemesthesis; human; olfaction; taste.

MeSH terms

  • Betacoronavirus / isolation & purification*
  • COVID-19
  • Coronavirus Infections / complications*
  • Coronavirus Infections / virology
  • Humans
  • Olfaction Disorders / etiology*
  • Olfaction Disorders / virology
  • Pandemics
  • Pneumonia, Viral / complications*
  • Pneumonia, Viral / virology
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Smell
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Taste
  • Taste Disorders / etiology*
  • Taste Disorders / virology