Tracking a COVID mystery: What happened to my sense of smell?

George Washington’s nose on Mount Rushmore
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Before people develop the more severe symptoms of COVID-19, some notice they have lost their sense of smell and taste. Researchers at Yale have joined a new global consortium to distribute a survey to establish how many COVID-19 patients experience this sensory loss and assess whether the virus may directly or indirectly affect the olfactory system.

We would like to know if the incidence of smell and taste loss is different than in other respiratory illnesses,’’ said Michael Farruggia, the graduate student in Yale’s Interdepartmental Neuroscience Program who is coordinating Yale’s participation in the Global Consortium of Chemosensory Researchers project.

The consortium has more than 400 clinicians, neurobiologists, data scientists, cognitive scientists, sensory researchers, and technicians from 38 countries. It has distributed more than 13,000 surveys to people who have suddenly lost their sense of smell to try to establish its links to COVID-19.

The group encourages widespread participation in the survey.

People with other respiratory illnesses can lose sense of smell and taste but most of those illnesses are accompanied by nasal congestion, which is less common in COVID-19.

We’d also like to track over time and see if these senses return in COVID-19,” Farruggia said.

The loss of smell has long intrigued scientists, who note that loss of smell and taste have been reported before the advent of neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

The consortium is also developing a list of instructions to help people assess loss of smell and taste using common household items, perfumes, spices, and foods.

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Part of the In Focus Collection: Yale responds to COVID-19

Media Contact

Bess Connolly: elizabeth.connolly@yale.edu, 203-432-1324