Coronavirus is known to cause symptoms such as a cough and a fever, but an increasing number of health agencies and governments are adding a loss of smell or taste, known as anosmia, to the list of symptoms.
The World Health Organization (WHO), US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Public Health England (PHE) all recognise losing your sense of smell or taste as a possible sign of infection and advise anyone experiencing this to self-isolate.
Some respiratory viruses are already known to cause problems with your sense of smell. Other coronaviruses, like the common cold, are also associated with a loss of smell, accounting for 10 to 15% of cases.
But large-scale surveys and clinical studies that have taken place since the pandemic began have provided strong evidence of this also being a symptom of COVID-19.
Why is coronavirus linked to loss of smell?
Earlier on in the pandemic, ENT UK (the body representing ear, nose and throat surgery in the UK), said that many people with confirmed COVID-19 across South Korea, China and Italy had reported losing their sense of smell, while in Germany more than 2 in 3 cases had experienced this.
Researchers at King’s College London also released data from their COVID-19 symptom tracker app that the loss of smell is a key symptom for people with the illness. Findings in early April showed that Of 579 app users who tested positive for COVID-19, 59% reported losing their sense of smell.
If people with this symptom self-isolate, this should help to reduce the spread of the virus.
If I lose my sense of smell, should I self-isolate?
The WHO, CDC ad PHE have all added losing your sense of smell to the official list of coronavirus symptoms which require you to self-isolate.
What else can cause loss of smell?
Losing your sense of smell may also be caused by:
- a viral infection affecting your nose and throat (upper respiratory tract), such as cold or flu
- an allergy, like hay fever
- growths in your nose (nasal polyps)
It’s also common to lose your sense of smell as you get older.
If it's the result of a cold, the loss is usually temporary and your sense of smell tends to return on its own. Symptoms of a cold typically last for around 7 to 10 days, but may continue for longer.
If your sense of smell doesn’t return after a few weeks you should speak to your doctor.
If you think your loss of smell is caused by an infection or allergy, cleaning the inside of your nose with a salt water solution may help
To do this:
- Mix a teaspoon of salt and a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda into a pint of boiled water that’s been allowed to cool.
- Wash and dry your hands.
- Stand over a sink, cup the palm of 1 hand and pour a small amount of the solution into it.
- Sniff the solution up 1 nostril at a time and let it run out of your nose.
Repeat this a few times.
If you think you may have coronavirus, you can use our COVID-19 Symptom Mapper to check your symptoms and compare them with others around the world.
This should give you a better understanding of how the illness is affecting you and will help us to map the spread of the outbreak.