Loss of taste and smell has been considered a hallmark of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic about a year and a half ago. However, new data published in the journal JAMA Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery suggests that these symptoms may not represent valid markers for infection with the virus.
To determine the power of smell and taste to signal the presence of COVID-19, researchers looked at data from nearly 60,000 adults in the United States between February and May of 2021. COVID-19 infection status but not vaccination status was recorded, as were symptoms, including new loss of taste and smell, aches, cough, headache, fever, sore throat, runny nose, congestion, difficulty breathing, diarrhea, and vomiting.
The results showed that loss of taste and smell were not just associated with COVID-19 but also with congestion and runny nose that occurred in the absence of COVID-19 infection. According to the authors, these results suggest that loss of taste and smell may not be a valid marker for test positivity for COVID-19. The authors acknowledge however that more data are needed to understand the specific role of taste and smell in the clinical presentation of COVID-19.
The nonspecific symptoms of COVID-19 have been an ongoing challenge for physicians in recognizing the disease when it occurs. Research that helps to elucidate any ways that COVID-19 can be distinguished from other viruses such as common colds and flus would not only further our understanding of COVID-19 but may help us to mitigate its spread.
Koyama AK, Siegel DA, Oyegun E, Hampton W, Maddox N, Koumans EH. Symptoms Reported With New Onset of Loss of Taste or Smell in Individuals With and Without SARS-CoV-2 Infection. JAMA Otolaryngology–Head & Neck Surgery. Published online September 2, 2021. doi:10.1001/JAMAOTO.2021.2239