Lost sense of smell could be key first sign of COVID-19, UC doctor says

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CINCINNATI (FOX19) - Your sense of smell could be the canary in the COVID-19 coal mine, according to a University of Cincinnati ear, nose and throat specialist.

It could also help you determine if you’re suffering from the deadly, highly spreadable virus that’s caused a global health pandemic — or seasonal allergies.

Ahmad Sedaghat, MD, is a UC Health physician specializing in diseases of the nose and sinuses.

He says doctors are beginning to realize the importance of the nose in determining the physiology of COVID-19, according to a university release.

“COVID-19 is not associated with the symptoms that are typically associated with a viral cold such as nasal blockage or mucus production,” Sedaghat said. “This distinction is also why it is fairly easy to distinguish COVID-19 from seasonal allergies."

He continued: “COVID-19 is associated with a fairly unique combination of nasal symptoms: a sudden loss of one’s sense of smell, also known as ‘anosmia,’ without nasal obstruction."

Sedaghat explains sudden onset anosmia without nasal obstruction is “highly predictive” of COVID-19.

In his paper, Sedaghat references a Parisian study that shows a 94 percent of a group of 55 patients presenting with anosmia without nasal obstruction tested positive for COVID-19.

He clarifies patients can lose their sense of smell at any time while infected with the novel coronavirus, but when it occurs as an early or initial symptom — which it tends to do — it is “a highly specific indicator" of the illness.

The findings are important because research shows patients who aren’t otherwise symptomatic can still spread the virus.

“A sudden loss of one’s sense of smell wouldn’t trigger most people to think they have COVID-19,” Sedaghat explained. “These individuals could continue business as usual and spread the disease as a carrier.

"The guidelines for when to formally test for COVID-19 remain fluid in the setting of limited tests. But if someone experiences anosmia without nasal obstruction, aside from quarantining, it would not be unreasonable to reach out to one’s primary care physician about getting tested.”

Sedaghat’s findings can be found in the scholarly journal Laryngoscope Investigative Otolaryngology.

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