How loss of smell in COVID-19 infection is different from that seen in the common cold or flu

People who have tested positive for COVID-19 have mostly presented with many different symptoms, ranging from a persistent fever, sore throat and cough to breathlessness and loss of smell and taste

Myupchar August 19, 2020 20:50:48 IST
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How loss of smell in COVID-19 infection is different from that seen in the common cold or flu

People who have tested positive for COVID-19 infection have mostly presented with many different symptoms, ranging from a persistent fever, sore throat and cough to breathlessness and loss of smell and taste. A previous study published in the journal eLife showed than patients with COVID-19 infection are 27 times more likely to lose their sense of smell than experiencing a fever, thus it can be a better predictor of this infectious disease. But a similar loss of smell is observed in cases of the flu or a common cold. So how can one differentiate between the two?

In recent research, published in the journal Rhinology on 19 August 2020, some smell disorder experts from the University of East Anglia have shown how the loss of smell seen in COVID-19 infection differs from what is experienced during an upper respiratory tract infection.

Anosmia in COVID-19 positive people

Studies reveal that around 34 percent to 98 percent of people with COVID-19 infection suffer from loss of smell, which is medically called anosmia. In this study, the researchers tested the smelling and tasting capacity of 10 COVID-19 positive patients,10 people with a bad cold and 10 healthy people as a control group.

The results of the study showed that the loss of smell was more profound in COVID-19 patients. In their study, the scientists found that people with COVID-19 were not only unable to identify the smell but they could not differentiate between bitter and sweet taste, which was not present in people with a bad cold.

The conclusion

With this research, the scientists concluded that people with a bad cold would either present with a stuffed nose and clogged airway. However, in the case of people with COVID-19 infection, the loss of smell is believed to occur due to the spread of infection to the nervous system and olfactory nerves, so the person would not have a stuffed nose.

People with a bad cold may not be able to taste their food but would be able to distinguish between strong flavours like bitter and sweet. On the other hand, COVID-19 patients would present with a complete loss of taste.

Previous studies have also shown that while some of the COVID-19 patients may regain their sense of smell within 30 days, others may never get it back. In the case of cold and flu, the person usually gets back their sense of smell within a week.

The scientists believe that, with the help of this finding, doctors would be better equipped to tell COVID-19 patients apart from those who have a common cold or the flu.

For more information, read our article on Loss of sense of smell and taste also symptoms of COVID-19.

Health articles in Firstpost are written by myUpchar.com, India’s first and biggest resource for verified medical information. At myUpchar, researchers and journalists work with doctors to bring you information on all things health.

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