The Association of "Loss of Smell" to COVID-19: A Systematic Review and Meta-Nnalysis

Am J Med Sci. 2020 Nov 1;S0002-9629(20)30427-4. doi: 10.1016/j.amjms.2020.09.017. Online ahead of print.


Background: The presence of olfactory dysfunction or "loss of smell" has been reported as an atypical symptom in patients with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). We performed a systematic review and meta-analysis of the available literature to evaluate the prevalence of "loss of smell" in COVID-19 as well as its utility for prognosticating the disease severity.

Methods: An exhaustive search of the PubMed/Medline, Embase, Web of Science, Cochrane Library, LitCovid NIH, and WHO COVID-19 database was conducted through August 6th, 2020. All studies reporting the prevalence of "loss of smell" (anosmia and/or hyposmia/microsmia) in laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 patients were included. Pooled prevalence for cases (positive COVID-19 through reverse transcriptase (RT-PCR) and/or serology IgG/IgM) and controls (negative RT-PCR and/or serology) was compared, and the odds ratio (OR), 95% confidence interval (CI) and the p-value were calculated. A p-value of <0.05 was considered statistically significant.

Results: A total of 51 studies with 11074 confirmed COVID-19 patients were included. Of these, 21 studies used a control group with 3425 patients. The symptom of "loss of smell" (OR: 14.7, CI: 8.9-24.3) was significantly higher in the COVID-19 group when compared to the control group. Seven studies comparing severe COVID-19 patients with- and without "loss of smell" demonstrated favorable prognosis for patients with "loss of smell" (OR: 0.36, CI 0.27-0.48).

Conclusions: Olfactory dysfunction or "loss of smell" is a prevalent symptom in COVID-19 patients. Moreover, COVID-19 patients with "loss of smell" appear to have a milder course of the disease.

Keywords: COVID-19; Coronavirus; Loss of smell; Olfactory dysfunction; SARS-CoV-2.