As coronavirus continues to spread globally, researchers are racing to uncover more about it, including the appearance of a new symptom that’s been appearing in some patients. It’s called anosmia and some doctors would like it added to the list of official symptoms.
What is anosmia?
Anosmia is the loss of smell, according to the Australia’s national public health information service, HealthDirect, and can also result in a number of other unpleasant repercussions — like losing your sense of taste.
It’s caused by a number of things including brain, head and nose injuries as well as some chemicals and medicines but viruses and colds can also cause it to happen.
It can be treated in most cases, depending on the cause with everyday products such as nasal sprays, antihistamines, antibiotics or just recovering from an illness but HealthDirect says in some cases, it may be permanent.
As the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners’ (RACGP) newsgp pointed out, there are a number of similar occurrences that could affect smell but not totally reduce it:
- hyposmia – reduced sense of smell
- dysgeusia – distorted sense of taste
- hypogeusia – reduced sense of taste.
Right now, anosmia, or the other smell changes, are not yet listed as symptoms of coronavirus, or COVID-19, on the Department of Health’s site but local and international experts are urging that to change.
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What do we know about anosmia and coronavirus?
There are preliminary and anecdotal reports from medical professionals and coronavirus cases stating a loss of smell is something some coronavirus patients are experiencing.
There is the potential to reduce COVID-19 transmission by requesting that individuals with new onset of anosmia self-isolate. A lost sense of smell as marker of COVID-19 infection… for full details see below pic.twitter.com/udkBMwwJ1F
— ENT UK (@ENT_UK) March 20, 2020
Internationally, the United Kingdom’s British Association of Otorhinolaryngology — the study of ear, throat and nose diseases — has urged anyone with sudden anosmia to self-isolate to prevent the potential spread. Ear, nose and throat (ENT) doctors from the association have cited some cases in affected areas such as Italy, China and South Korea exhibited the symptom.
It referenced a limited survey in a Germany hospital had found two-thirds of cases had reported anosmia while it claimed it was the major presenting symptom in 30 per cent of South Korean cases. We are unable to independently verify this claim.
— RACGP (@RACGP) March 24, 2020
An Melbourne ENT specialist, Dr Stephen Kleid, told newsgp while the research has not yet clearly determined whether anosmia is a symptom, it should be treated as one given the amount of evidence available.
“One of the early symptoms [of COVID-19] that seems to be evident is significant anosmia,” Dr Kleid said to newsgp.
“If it’s acute onset loss of sense of smell, then I think they should be treated as a coronavirus patient until proven otherwise.”
Lifehacker Australia has contacted the RACGP for its official stance on whether anosmia should be added to Australia’s coronavirus symptom list but it declined to comment.
If I lose my sense of smell, should I test for coronavirus?
In Australia, the testing criteria for coronavirus is still quite strict. To be eligible, you’ll need to:
- Have returned from overseas in the past 14 days and you develop respiratory illness with or without fever
- Have been in close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case in the past 14 days and you develop respiratory illness with or without fever
- Have severe community-acquired pneumonia and there is no clear cause
- Be a healthcare worker who works directly with patients and you have a respiratory illness and a fever
In short, you’ll not be able to get tested unless you meet that criteria. Saying that, if you do start to develop anosmia and you are in a position to self-isolate, it’s worth considering.
Until then, you can use this symptom checker from the government to see whether you’ll be able to get tested.
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