What you need to know about the possible taste/smell link to COVID-19
With stories spreading about COVID-19 patients losing the ability to smell and taste, we asked Steven Munger, director of the University of Florida Center for Smell and Taste, what science can actually tell us about the potential link — and what to do if it happens to you.
So far, the stories are just stories.
“While I think these reports are real, there’s no data at this point to say that it’s unique to COVID-19,” Munger says. You’ve probably experienced a lowered sense of taste and smell when you have a cold, Munger explains. With only anecdotal evidence, it’s hard to tell if the symptoms experienced by COVID-19 patients are the same kind of temporary loss, possibly caused by congestion or inflammation, or something different.
That said, don’t ignore a loss of taste and smell.
If you suddenly feel like you can’t smell or taste, “the prudent thing to do is self-isolate and immediately call your physician, or one of the various hotlines set up for reporting COVID-19,” Munger says. “Act like you’re infected until directed otherwise by your physician.”
Taste and smell scientists are on it.
While you normally don’t hear much about them, non-COVID-19 taste and smell deficiencies are fairly common: 13% of U.S. adults over 40 have a significant smell disorder. In the past few days, scientists and clinicians around the world who study smell and taste have banded together to fast-track gathering data on the phenomenon as related to COVID-19 and to develop tests patients can do at home.
Once we know more, it could be a useful indicator.
“It could be as simple as scratch-and-sniff tests sent to homes that people take themselves and report to their physician,” Munger says. “It might be a useful and safe way, along with other symptoms like body temperature and coughing, to get a better understanding of who should be tested for COVID-19.”
About the Center:
The UF Center for Smell and Taste draws on the expertise of more than 50 faculty members from the University of Florida’s Colleges of Engineering, Medicine, Dentistry, Pharmacy, Health and Human Performance, Agriculture, and Liberal Arts and Sciences. With UF Health, the center launched the Smell Disorders Program, one of the world’s only clinical programs dedicated to care, education and support for patients with anosmia and other smell disorders.