Quality of life and safety impact of COVID-19 associated smell and taste disturbances

Am J Otolaryngol. 2021 Jul-Aug;42(4):103001. doi: 10.1016/j.amjoto.2021.103001. Epub 2021 Mar 22.


Objective: The association between COVID-19 and chemosensory loss has garnered substantial attention, however to date little is known about the real-life consequences of impairment in this unique patient population. The aim of this study is to evaluate the quality of life (QOL) and personal safety deficits experienced by patients with COVID-19 infection.

Study design: Prospective, longitudinal questionnaires.

Setting: National survey.

Methods: A longitudinal web-based nationwide survey of adults with COVID-19 and/or a sudden change in smell and taste was launched April 10, 2020. Previously published questions on chemosensory-related QOL and safety events were asked at the 6-month follow-up survey.

Results: As of February 10, 2021, 480 eligible respondents took the 6-month questionnaire, of whom 322 were COVID-19 positive. Impact on QOL was substantial with 96% of subjects reporting at least one of the defined deficits, and over 75% reporting at least 3 of these. "Reduced enjoyment of food" was the most common complaint (87%), while 43% of subjects self-reported depression. The prevalence of safety-related issues was common in this population, with over 57% reporting at least one, and 36% reporting 2 or more events. Of the events asked, the inability to smell smoke that others could perceive was the most common at 45%.

Conclusions: COVID-19 associated chemosensory losses have a real and substantial impact on both quality of life and safety, beyond mere inconvenience. The high prevalence of these issues despite a relatively short period of olfactory deficit should alert clinicians to the serious risks to an already vulnerable patient population.

Keywords: COVID-19; Coronavirus; Epidemiology; Quality of life, safety; Smell; Taste.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • COVID-19 / complications*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Olfaction Disorders / complications*
  • Olfaction Disorders / psychology
  • Olfaction Disorders / virology
  • Prospective Studies
  • Quality of Life*
  • Risk
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Taste Disorders / complications*
  • Taste Disorders / psychology
  • Taste Disorders / virology
  • Young Adult