Olfactory and taste dysfunctions caused by COVID-19: a nationwide study

Rhinology. 2023 Dec 1;61(6):552-560. doi: 10.4193/Rhin23.034.


Background: Olfactory dysfunctions (OD) and taste dysfunctions (TD) are widely recognized as characteristic symptoms of COVID-19; however, the frequency and mode of occurrence has varied depending on the viral mutation. The prevalence and characteristics of OD/TD in Japan have not been definitively investigated. The purpose of this study is to assess the prevalence of OD/TD in Japan during the Alpha variant epidemic, and measure symptom prolongation at 6 months and 1 year later following initial infection.

Methods: Patients treated for COVID-19 between February to May 2021 were evaluated for OD/TD symptoms and provided with a QOL questionnaire. Olfactory tests and taste tests were performed using Open Essence and Taste Strips, respectively.

Results: Among the 251 COVID-19 patients who participated, 119 underwent both olfactory and taste tests. Prevalence of subjective OD and TD at the time of survey was 57.8% and 40.2%, respectively. After 12 months, the prevalence fell to 5.8% for OD and 3.5% for TD. Among the OD/TD patients, 36.6% experienced parosmia, and 55.4% experienced parageusia. Prevalence of parosmia and parageusia was higher at 6 and 12 months than at the time of survey. Patients with long-lasting disease reported qualitative dysfunctions and scored significantly higher in food-related QOL problems. Most patients who were aware of their hyposmia had low scores on the olfactory test (83.1%). In contrast, only 26.7% of patients who were aware of their hypogeusia had low scores on the taste test.

Conclusions: The prevalence of COVID-19-related OD and TD at the time of survey was 57.8% and 40.2%, respectively. Subjective symptoms of OD and TD persisted for one year in 5.8% and 3.5% of patients, respectively. More than half of the patients with OD or TD complained of qualitative dysfunction and a decrease in their QOL related to eating and drinking. Most patients with TD did not have true TD, but rather developed flavour disorders associated with OD. This conclusion is supported by the finding that patients with subjective OD had low scores on the olfactory test, whereas most patients with subjective TD had normal scores on the taste test.

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19* / complications
  • Dysgeusia
  • Humans
  • Olfaction Disorders* / diagnosis
  • Olfaction Disorders* / epidemiology
  • Olfaction Disorders* / etiology
  • Quality of Life
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Smell
  • Taste
  • Taste Disorders / epidemiology
  • Taste Disorders / etiology

Supplementary concepts

  • SARS-CoV-2 variants