Specialist nose and throat doctors are urging the Government to recognise a lost sense of taste or smell as a tell-tale coronavirus symptom.
ENT UK, which represents ear, nose and throat experts around the country, said there is evidence a ‘significant’ number of patients suffer these effects.
Currently, the only symptoms the NHS lists as ones which make coronavirus likely are a recurring cough or a fever or high temperature.
But ENT UK said as many as two thirds of COVID-19 patients in Germany reported losing one or both senses, and it often happened to people with less obvious illnesses.
Other less often reported symptoms include headaches, sickness, diarrhoea and a blocked nose, according to World Health Organization data.
Growing numbers of people are reporting losing their senses of taste and smell, according to ear, nose and throat doctors, who argue these should be listed as official symptoms (stock image)
Fever – a high temperature and body aches – is the most common symptom of the coronavirus and is experienced by almost nine out of 10 people who catch it, according to the World Health Organization
ENT UK said medics across the world have reported rising numbers of people saying they have anosmia – the technical term for a lost sense of smell – in the past month.
‘We believe this is related to COVID-19 infection,’ the organisation said.
‘At present, many affected patients do not have other symptoms, or only mild disease, and therefore do not meet the criteria for testing.
‘While loss of smell may be caused by other viruses, we think that it is reasonable to assume that COVID-19 is the cause until tests prove negative.
‘We therefore advise that patients follow current guidelines for self-isolating if they develop new onset anosmia. This will also apply to cohabiting friends or family.’
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF CORONAVIRUS?
Like other coronaviruses, including those that cause the common cold and that triggered SARS, COVID-19 is a respiratory illness.
- The most common symptoms are:
- Dry cough
- Shortness of breath
- Difficulty breathing
Although having a runny nose doesn’t rule out coronavirus, it doesn’t thus far appear to be a primary symptom.
Most people only become mildly ill, but the infection can turn serious and even deadly, especially for those who are older or have underlying health conditions.
In these cases, patients develop pneumonia, which can cause:
- Potentially with yellow, green or bloody mucus
- Fever, sweating and shaking chills
- Shortness of breath
- Rapid or shallow breathing
- Pain when breathing, especially when breathing deeply or coughing
- Low appetite, energy and fatigue
- Nausea and vomiting (more common in children)
- Confusion (more common in elderly people)
- Some patients have also reported diarrhea and kidney failure has occasionally been a complication.
Avoid people with these symptoms. If you develop them, call your health care provider before going to the hospital or doctor, so they and you can prepare to minimize possible exposure if they suspect you have coronavirus.
Currently, people in the UK are being told to self-isolate only if they have a persistent cough, or a high temperature, or both, or if somebody in their family does.
This is based on large-scale data from China, where the most common symptoms reported are fever, a dry cough and fatigue.
However, the World Health Organization (WHO) said it is investigating the link between loss of smell and taste and COVID-19.
Maria Van Kerkhove, the head of the WHO’s emerging diseases and zoonoses unit, said on Monday: ‘A loss of smell or a loss of taste is something that we’re looking into.
‘We are reaching out to a number of countries and looking at the cases that have already been reported to see if this is a common feature. We don’t have the answer to that yet.’
ENT UK said viral infections are the second most common reason for people to close their sense of smell – the most common is simply a blocked nose.
It added: ‘There is growing evidence that significant numbers of patients with proven Covid-19 infection have developed anosmia/hyposmia (reduced sense of smell).
‘For example, in Germany it is reported that more than two in three confirmed cases have anosmia.’
It has told Public Health England about the apparent link, it said.
It comes as several small studies have found that some people with Covid-19 experience loss of smell, loss of taste or gastrointestinal problems such as vomiting or diarrhoea.
Earlier this week, football presenter Gary Lineker’s son, George, said he had suffered a ‘complete loss of sense of taste and smell’.
He tweeted: ‘Quite a few of you out there who can’t smell or taste either. I’ve had it for a few days but only heard about this being a symptom last night, if i have it.
‘Pretty much been home the past few days but now isolating as it can be contagious. Feel fine & still exercising daily.’
Health minister Nadine Dorries also said she lost all sense of taste and smell after testing positive for COVID-19.
Professor Jonathan Ball, from the University of Nottingham, told The Telegraph: ‘Throughout the outbreak I have been incredibly bothered by the (UK’s) restricted case definition.
‘When you look at the medical reports describing how cases are presenting, particularly mild infections, coronavirus patients clearly have cold-like symptoms.’
In the UK, both the NHS 111 coronavirus symptom checker and a new COVID-19 symptom checker app list high temperature, cough and breathlessness as symptoms, but carry no mention of loss of taste and sense of smell.
PHE has been contacted for comment.