Flashpop/Stone/Getty Images

Loss of smell could be a symptom of coronavirus

Researchers all over the world are working at breakneck speed to understand and curb the novel coronavirus. One of the difficulties doctors have had in diagnosing COVID — besides insufficient testing — is that the symptoms are similar to the common cold, the flu, and allergies. But one relatively unique symptom is beginning to emerge — loss of smell. Doctors want people to know that folks who lose their sense of smell or taste should self-isolate, even if they don’t have any other symptoms, the New York Times reported.

That loss of smell may be an indication that a person who seems healthy is carrying the virus and can transmit it to others, the Times reported.

Research on this is still limited, but experts want us to take heed. “We really want to raise awareness that this is a sign of infection and that anyone who develops loss of sense of smell should self-isolate,” Prof. Claire Hopkins, president of the British Rhinological Society, told the Times. This is important, Hopkins noted, for slowing the spread of the virus and potentially saving lives.

Doctors in Italy who were treating folks in the areas most heavily affected concluded — from their experiences with patients and their families — that loss of smell may be an indication that a person who seems healthy is carrying the virus and can transmit it to others, the Times reported.

Pauline Pilon/Moment Open/Getty Images

It may seem counterintuitive, but in this moment, losing your sense of smell does not indicate a trip to an ear, nose, and throat specialist, a.k.a. an ENT. Why? Because COVID-19 replicates in the nose and throat and the coughs and sneezes ENTs are exposed to while examining folks are putting them at high risk for infection, the Times reported. According to Hopkins, ENTs and eye doctors in China were infected and died in high numbers and two British ENTs are currently in critical condition.

Not all people infected with COVID-19 will lose their sense of smell or taste, but of 2,000 infected patients in Korea, 30 percent reported loss of smell.

If you can’t smell the roses right now, take action as far as safety and diagnosis, but try not to freak out. There’s no reason to suspect the condition is permanent. Clemens Wendtner, a professor of medicine at the Academic Teaching Hospital of Ludwig-Maximilians University of Munich, told the Times that the loss of smell and taste is temporary, and that most patients will regain these senses after a few days or weeks.