Is loss of smell or taste a symptom of COVID-19?
March 18, 2021
This article has not been updated recently
Data from millions of users of the ZOE COVID Symptom Study app has shown that loss of smell can be a symptom of COVID-19. Here’s how to spot it and what it feels like.
What is anosmia like in COVID-19?
The ZOE COVID Symptom Study app found that many people infected with coronavirus lose their sense of smell (anosmia) and/or taste.
Some people using the app have also reported that their sense of smell didn’t go completely, but changed with COVID-19 infection so that things smelled markedly differently to before.
If you have anosmia or a change in your sense of smell, you may notice that that you can’t smell strongly scented things like coffee or flowers (or candles!). You may also notice that food tastes different from normal or seems tasteless (dysgeusia).
It’s easy and quick to test your sense of smell every day using simple household items - read our blog post to find out how.
When does anosmia happen in COVID-19?
Anosmia or changes in smell tend to be an earlier symptom of COVID-19, and last an average of five days. However, some people report losing their sense of smell for several weeks.
How common is anosmia in COVID-19?
Anosmia is one of the commonest symptoms of COVID-19, affecting an average of six in ten (60%) adults aged 16-65 at some point in their illness. It is less common for children (35%) and affects around half of adults over 65 with COVID-19.
Data from the ZOE COVID Symptom Study shows that loss of smell is the most predictive symptom of having a positive test for COVID-19.
For a significant proportion of people with COVID-19, anosmia is the only symptom they experience. 22% of children, 38% of adults aged 16-35, 30% of adults aged 35-65 and 15% of over 65s using the ZOE COVID Symptom Study app reported anosmia as their only symptom.
What other symptoms of COVID-19 are common alongside anosmia?
Anosmia or changes in smell are likely to occur alongside fatigue (tiredness) and headaches. It can also come together with fever, sore throat and a persistent cough. Older people are also likely to skip meals and have unusual muscle pains.
Depending on your age and sex, you should contact your doctor if you have multiple different symptoms of COVID-19 in the first week of being ill.
What should I do if I have anosmia and think it might be COVID-19?
If you have lost your sense of smell or taste or things smell different to normal you should:
- Follow the NHS guidelines and self-isolate at home to help protect the people around you and the wider community.
- Book a COVID test as soon as possible, either through the app or the NHS.
- Download the ZOE COVID Symptom Study app and start logging your health daily, if you’re not already, to help us understand more about how COVID-19 affects people and contribute to life-saving scientific research.
- Check out our tips on looking after yourself if you are sick with COVID-19, monitoring your health at home and staying hydrated.
Although it can be frustrating to experience, there is no specific medical treatment for anosmia. If your sense of smell is not coming back quickly, smell training might help - find out more from AbScent or Fifth Sense.
Read more about COVID-19 and anosmia from ENT UK and the NHS website.
Stay safe and keep logging.