News Can’t smell or taste? You might have coronavirus
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Can’t smell or taste? You might have coronavirus

COVID-19 patients can lose their smell. Photo: Getty
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Did Sunday’s home-made hot cross buns taste unusually bland?

Is your hand soap missing its floral whiff?

You could have COVID-19.

Anecdotal accounts of the new coronavirus causing a loss of smell have been travelling around the internet since before the spread of COVID-19 reached pandemic levels.

Now doctors have mounting evidence the rumours are true, with the latest case study being from French doctors who have treated a woman in her 40s who suffered a ‘sudden and complete’ loss of smell.

The woman had previously had a cough, but no fever.

The doctors tested the woman’s ability to smell five differ odours: Roses, caramel, goats cheese, fruits and manure – none of them registered.

“None of these [odours] were identified or detected by the patient,” the study, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found.

So what’s going on?

To see why this was happening, the doctors performed an MRI and CT scan on the woman.

They found her olfactory cleft, the upper part of the nose which air travels through, was swollen.

This was stopping air carrying scents reaching her olfactory epithelium, the mucous membrane that detects smells.

Interestingly, she had no fever or runny nose, which typically cause a loss of smell in cold and flu patients.

“To our knowledge, this is the first report of a patient with COVID-19 presenting essentially with an olfactory function loss,” the study found.

And luckily, the sense should return.

Viruses are believed to cause inflammation in the sensory neurons in our noses.

This takes away the nerve cells’ ability to transfer the information about what we are smelling, nice or otherwise, to the brain.

The good news is that damaged nerve cells in the nose can grow back.

The study adds to the growing reports that along with fever, a dry cough, and difficulty breathing, COVID-19 can wipe out a person’s sense of smell.

In fact, it might be the most common symptom.

In the United Kingdom, a team from King’s College London recently analysed more than 400,000 people reporting suspected coronavirus symptoms.

Of those 400,000 people, 18 per cent said they had no taste or smell.

But of the cohort who has tested positive for COVID-19, 59 per cent said they had lost their smell or taste – making it a stronger predictor of the virus than fever.

In a statement, ear, nose and throat experts from the British Association of Otorhinolaryngology, said the symptom was concerning, as it meant patients presenting with just a loss of smell might be unknowingly spreading the virus.

“There have been a rapidly growing number of reports of a significant increase in the number of patients presenting with anosmia in the absence of other symptoms,” the statement read.

“These patients may be some of the hitherto hidden carriers that have facilitated the rapid spread of COVID-19.”