Covid symptoms: What is anosmia?

Article By: AbScent

COVID symptoms include a high temperature and a new, continuous cough, but symptoms can also include anosmia. So what is anosmia?

Coronavirus can affect people differently, but many people report a loss or change in their sense of taste and smell. These symptoms can be frustrating and can have an impact on people’s daily life.

What are the symptoms of coronavirus?
The main symptoms of coronavirus are a high temperature, a new continuous cough or a loss or change to sense of smell and taste.

If anyone has any of these symptoms, the NHS recommends people book a Covid test immediately to check if they have Covid-19.

People with symptoms of coronavirus, or those who live in the same household as someone with symptoms, must self-isolate until a test result comes back negative, in order to prevent any infection being passed to another person.

If a test comes back as positive, the entire household must isolate in line with the NHS guidance.

What is anosmia and parosmia?
Many people take their sense of smell for granted. However, losing just some of your sense of smell can affect your quality of life, resulting in deep feelings of loss and, in some cases, isolation and depression. Smell loss affects millions of people worldwide. In fact, it’s been estimated that around 5% of people in the UK are affected by smell loss – that’s around 3.25 million people – with an additional 15% affected by a reduced sense of smell (hyposmia).

How is smell loss defined?

Anosmia is a complete absence of the sense of smell. It is further defined as acquired or congenital depending on whether or not you had a sense of smell at birth.

Hyposmia is a reduced sense of smell.

Parosmia is a distorted sense of smell.

Phantosmia is when you experience smells that aren’t there.

Your sense of smell can also affect your perception of flavour. Many people confuse their smell loss with losing their sense of taste (ageusia); however, taste disorders are much rarer than smell disorders.

How do we experience smell?
Our sense of smell is a complex partnership between our nose and our brain.

Smell happens when volatile molecules of a substance, for instance a cut lemon, mingle with the air. When they enter our nose, they stimulate olfactory nerve cells found high in the nasal cavity. These nerves send messages to the brain that help us interpret what we are smelling

Our sense of smell also affects our ability to appreciate food and drink; without this sense of smell, flavours are limited to salty, sweet, sour, bitter and savoury (umami).

How can smell loss affect your everyday life?
Our sense of smell is closely related to how we experience and interact with the world. Smell loss can affect everything, including relationships and work life.

There may be fewer practical problems associated with losing your sense of smell than with loss of sight or hearing. However, studies have shown that many people who have smell loss experience emotional problems and social isolation that can affect every part of their lives.

The loss of smell and taste is one of the recognised symptoms of Covid-19
Just over half of patients with the virus will lose their sense of smell, but most will recover smell and taste after two or three weeks.

Unfortunately, one in ten people who lose their sense of smell will have persistent smell loss which can last at least eight weeks, but commonly lasts for many months.

For most people, recovery will happen naturally after a few weeks. For those with persistent smell loss the road to recovery will be longer.

If you want to know more about how to help your recovery, NoseWell has been created by doctors for Covid-19 patients.

Persistent smell loss: What you need to know
Smell training is recommended to support recovery and you can find out more about that here.

Distorted and unpleasant smells are a common feature of the recovery process. Known as parosmia, Covid-19 patients with persistent smell loss commonly report strong disgusting smells. The good news is that this is seen as a sign of recovery, but it can be very difficult to live with and can affect your enjoyment of food.

Smell doesn’t come back all at once, and you may find progress stalls or even goes backwards for while.

AbScent works with the Altered Eating Network to understand how this affects eating, and ways to make sure you continue to eat a good diet.

Smell loss can get you down. Not just because we don’t enjoy things as much if we can’t smell, but it has been demonstrated that people who lose their sense of smell are more vulnerable to depression. You may find it helps to share your experiences with others going through a similar experience - The AbScent Network is one place to make connections. If feelings of low mood or anxiety persist, please speak to your doctor.

It won’t always be like this! Most people recover their sense of smell eventually, although they may find it’s different from before. It’s an injury that takes time to heal so be kind to yourself as you recover.

Join The AbScent Network
We are all in this together! AbScents' mission is to support the community of those who are living with smell disorders to find a better quality of life. This includes patients, care teams and health care professionals. Together with your stories and participation, we are exploring the nature and impact of smell disorders to discover and develop real-world practical solutions to the challenges we share.


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