Our response to COVID-19

Loss of smell and taste added to COVID-19 symptoms

Loss of smell and taste has officially been recognised in the UK as a symptom of COVID-19, putting us in line with Europe, America and the World Health Organisation.

This important development means people calling NHS 111 with sudden loss of smell and taste will now be told to self-isolate and are eligible for a COVID-19 test.

The UK branch of the Global Consortium for Chemosensory Research (GCCR), involving Fuse experts at Newcastle and Northumbria universities, has welcomed the change as they have been calling for the complete loss of smell (anosmia) to be recognised as a marker for otherwise asymptomatic carriers of the virus.

Important recognition of symptoms

Fuse Associates Dr Duika Burges Watson, from the Faculty of Medical Sciences at Newcastle University, and Professor Vincent Deary, Professor of Applied Health Psychology at Northumbria University, are part of the GCCR group.

Dr Burges Watson said: “The recognition of loss of smell is so important in more ways than one. From our altered eating research we know that a loss of taste and smell can be extremely distressing and can have a huge impact both emotionally and physically.

“Within the GCCR we are working to better understand how sensory experience is disrupted by COVID-19 and it’s not a straightforward story.

“Smell loss is a common side-effect of viral infections, but with COVID-19 it seems to be occurring alongside a diminished sensation of tastes, for example sweet and bitter, and the inability to register other nasal and oral sensations like the spiciness of foods.

“We will be studying the long-term impact of this as our understanding of the COVID-19 virus evolves."

Until now, only a fever and cough were triggers for people to self-isolate in case they had the infection and could spread it.

The UK GCCR team hope that this new recognition of the importance of smell, and the effect of its loss on people’s lives, will encourage further work in this area.

Professor Deary said: “The GCCR research is showing that unlike other viral anosmias, COVID-19 anosmia can occur without any nasal blockage.

“For some people the first thing they may notice is not the loss of smell, but the loss of ability to taste their food. Any sudden change in smell or taste should be taken seriously as a sign of possible infection.”

Symptom survey

In order to discover more, researchers from the University of London, together with colleagues from the GCCR, have produced a survey about change of smell and taste during the pandemic.

Anyone who has recently experienced symptoms of respiratory illnesses or smell loss is urged to complete a 10 minute survey.

Professor Barry Smith, from the University of London, the UK lead for the GCCR, said: “If enough people are able to tell us about their sudden loss of smell or taste, this will provide vital clues that could be part of the story about the prevalence of the virus in the population – information the Government can call upon before mass antibody testing is available.”

Altered Eating Research Network

Dr Burges Watson and Professor Deary join the GCCR after their recently published letter in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), urging for more attention to be given to anosmia as a symptom of COVID-19. Professor Deary is a practitioner health psychologist and a practicing cognitive behavioural therapist. Both have aparticular interest in altered relationships with food and eating, including loss of smell and taste.

Following a National Institute for Health Research funded grant examining changed relationships with food after head and neck cancer, Dr Burges Watson and Professor Deary established the Altered Eating Research Network as a public interface for the many whose difficulties with food and eating are under-recognised and unsupported.


Photo: (L-R) Professor Vincent Deary and Dr Duika Burges Watson

Last modified: Thu, 11 Jun 2020 16:34:21 BST