What is anosmia? A lack of smell and taste is now an official coronavirus symptom

It's just been added to the official list.
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  • For weeks now we've been told that the main coronavirus symptoms to look out for are a high fever and a dry, continuous cough. Now, experts have added anosmia to the list - but what does it mean exactly?

    But just yesterday, the UK government officially added another symptom to the list – anosmia.

    It means there are now three official symptoms of coronavirus, although sufferers often report experiencing many more, including headaches, fatigue, and a sore throat.

    What is anosmia?

    Anosmia means the partial or complete loss of the sense of smell. Without the sense of smell, your sense of taste may well change too. The NHS note the symptom as ‘loss or change to your sense of smell or taste.’ They explain, “this means you’ve noticed you cannot smell or taste anything, or things smell or taste different to normal.”

    Official advice now is that if you or someone you live with has any of these symptoms – a new, continuous cough, fever or loss of smell or taste, you must stay home and self-isolate for seven days.

    However, they note that loss of smell or taste can persist after seven days, but you do not need to keep self-isolating after the seven days, unless you continue to have a high temperature.

    Normally, anosmia is caused by a head injury, blockage of the nose, or an infection, such as a cold. But it has now become a symptom of the coronavirus too.

    However, many began reporting that anosmia may well be a symptom of COVID-19 as far back as two months ago.

    READ MORE: Have you had coronavirus? 8 signs that you may have already caught it

    Why has anosmia only just been added to the official symptoms list?

    Deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van Tam said at a daily government briefing this week that the addition of anosmia to the symptoms list would mean identifying up to 3 per cent more cases of the virus in the community.

    He has argued that it was important to update symptoms guidance “at the right time”, meaning “when we think it’s going to make a difference moving forwards to how we pick up cases”.

    But many argue that its addition has come too late, and means that many coronavirus cases will have been missed over the last few weeks.

    Scientists at King’s College London – led by Professor Tim Spector, have been running the COVID-19 symptom-reporting app.

    what is anosmia

    Credit: Getty Images

    READ MORE: What are the new government guidelines for lockdown? Here are the rules that have and haven’t been eased

    By their estimations, they suspect that between 50,000 – 70,000 people who potentially had coronavirus, with anosmia as their only symptom, may have been missed.

    Ear nose and throat specialists also suggested months ago that those with no sense of taste or smell could be infectious, explaining that it may well be the only indication of the virus in people who are asymptomatic.

    ENT UK (the professional body for Ear, Nose and Throat surgery), have issued a statement with the British Rhinological Society, in which they referenced the fact that they called for anosmia to be added to the official symptom list eight weeks ago.

    They said, “We are delighted that eight weeks after ENTUK and the British Rhinological Society issued a press release alerting physicians globally to the risk that patients presenting with isolated anosmia may be suffering with COVID-19 infection, it has been recognised by Public Health England and has been included in the list of symptoms used by NHS111.

    Prof Nirmal Kumar from ENT UK, told the BBC that he believes the delay has not been helpful.

    “We had been asking for this almost eight weeks ago. The delay has not helped at all. Many, many people have contacted us with concerns about loss of smell and taste and whether these are symptoms they should act upon.

    Are there any other symptoms that have not be listed that we should watch out for?

    Professor Tim Spector has claimed that King’s College London have noted a further 14 symptoms which could indicate that someone has coronavirus.

    These include stomach pain, diarrhoea and fatigue.

    He suggested that people at being put at risk by not mentioning them as symptoms.

    Prof. Tim explained, “These are not being picked up by the NHS. This country is missing them all and not only underestimating cases but also putting people at risk and continuing the epidemic. There’s no point telling people to be alert if they don’t know the symptoms.”

    In fact, currently, the World Health Organisation have listed 13 symptoms which could be indicative of COVID-19. The UK at the moment only lists three.

    They explain that while the most common symptoms are fever, a dry cough and tiredness, there are also some less common symptoms worth noting. These include:

    • aches and pains
    • sore throat
    • diarrhoea
    • conjunctivitis
    • headache
    • loss of taste or smell
    • a rash on skin, or discolouration of fingers or toes.

    They also suggest that serious symptoms (which suggest a severe infection) could include difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, chest pain or pressure, and loss of speech or movement.