Published: 10th December 2020
You can lose your sense of smell and taste even before you test positive for COVID-19: Study
Additionally, about 22 per cent of those with an impaired sense of smell and taste said it was their first symptom of infection
Loss of smell and taste are common in people who have COVID-19 infections and now a new study found that these symptoms often occur before other symptoms, like fever or shortness of breath.
According to the study, published in the journal Neurology, almost two-thirds of the people admitted to an Italian hospital with COVID-19 in March experienced losing their senses of smell and taste,
Additionally, about 22 per cent of those with an impaired sense of smell and taste said it was their first symptom of infection.
"While many people show evidence of COVID-19 infection in the lungs, we found there could be more at play than what a person's lungs can tell us," said study author Francesco Bax from the Santa Maria della Misericordia University Hospital in Italy.
The study involved 93 people with an average age of 63 who were admitted to the non-intensive COVID-19 unit of the hospital in March 2020.
The participants either tested positive for the virus with a swab test, or they showed signs of lung problems with a chest X-ray or scan. They were also interviewed about their symptoms.
Loss of smell and taste was present in 58 people, or 63 per cent of the group. For 13 of the 58 or 22 per cent, the loss of smell and taste was their first symptom. The average duration of the loss of smell and taste was 25 to 30 days.
Researchers also looked at blood work to see if there were certain biomarkers of inflammation. Compared to coronavirus-infected patients who didn't lose their sense of smell and taste, the people with a compromised sense of smell had lower amounts of white blood cells or leukocytes.
In particular, a specific subset of white blood cells called neutrophils was reduced. These cells also help the body fight infection. The people who lost their sense of smell had an average of 4,695 leukocytes per microliter (iL), compared to 6,010/iL in those with a normal sense of smell, a decrease of 23 per cent.
The people who lost their sense of smell had an average of 3,250 neutrophils/iL, compared to an average of 3,960/iL in those with a normal sense of smell, a decrease of 29 per cent.
"For people whose first symptoms were loss of taste and smell, we found very few had nasal congestion, so we think obstruction of the nasal passages is an unlikely cause of these symptoms," the author wrote.