COVID-19 mystery: losing smell and taste

WPVI logo
Monday, April 13, 2020
Action News coverage of the coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak

UNIVERSITY CITY (WPVI) -- One big question among doctors treating COVID-19 centers around one of the unique symptoms why so many patients suddenly lose their sense of smell and taste?

It's believed to happen in about 30% of all patients.

And will it be permanent?

A Philadelphia researcher is on a global panel trying to answer those questions, and the panel wants to hear from recovered patients.

The Global Consortium of Chemosensory Researchers (GCCR), a grassroots organization of scientists, was formed March 20th, to investigate the connection between COVID-19 and this loss of smell and taste.

Danielle Reed, Ph.D., associate director of the Monell Chemical Senses Center, is on the 9-member global leadership team

Reed says GCCR consists of more than 500 clinicians, neurobiologists, data scientists, cognitive scientists, sensory researchers, and technicians from 38 countries.

It will use data collected in a worldwide survey to unravel this troubling symptom of the viral infection.

The survey is already live and available in English, German, Spanish, and French, with work underway to put it into Korean and Mandarin.

Dr. Reed says that will get a truly global perspective on this problem.

"We're trying to compare presumed or confirmed COVID-19 with people who have more ordinary flu and colds and so forth," she told us.

The loss of smell with colds & flu has always been linked to nasal congestion, however, most coronavirus patients don't have congestion,

"It could that the way smell loss happens in a cold & flu situation doesn't have to be different than the way it happens here. It's just the situation that there's also the nasal congestion. It could be that the mechanism is the same, but people just attribute the smell loss to the stuffy nose," Reed says.

She says there cold be similar inflammatory mechanisms in both which attack the small olfactory receptors in the nasal passages.

With most colds and flu, the sense of smell returns.

And early indications are that people with coronavirus also recover their taste and smell.

"The next big question is to follow people over time with assessing their smell with things that they have in their homes," she says.

"We're currently deploying a self-assessment questionnaire so people can assess their baseline smell using things like spices or perfumes or so forth in their homes and then to be able to look at their own data over a 2-month period to see how their sense of smell may or may not be changing," she says.

If you have recovered from COVID-19, or now somebody who has, have them take the survey HERE.

Monell is hosting a free online panel discussion on April 28th and 1pm, open to patient and scientists on smell loss research. It will include a special section on COVID-19.

For more information, CLICK HERE.