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If you can’t smell these 2 things, you probably have COVID-19

Published Oct 13th, 2020 4:18PM EDT
Coronavirus symptoms
Image: Fabian/Adobe

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  • Losing the senses of smell and taste are among the most commonly reported coronavirus symptoms — and among the clearest indicators of the likely presence of the COVID-19 virus.
  • A new study out of India has taken a closer look at this particular coronavirus indicator, to see if the loss of the ability to identify particular smells might be an even clearer symptom of the coronavirus.
  • What it found was that study participants who couldn’t identity two smells among the five in the study were most likely to test positive for COVID-19.

One of the truly bizarre things about the COVID-19 virus at the center of the current global pandemic is how many weird and frightening coronavirus symptoms have manifested themselves in the now-millions of victims around the world. Some of them are quite obvious and make sense that they’d be symptoms associated with this respiratory virus, such as a fever and dry cough, but there are others that people might not even realize are relevant to a possible COVID diagnosis.

Losing your sense of smell or taste is one such coronavirus symptom that more people need to be aware, largely because this is basically a big, blinking red indicator light of the possible presence of the virus. According to a recent New York Times analysis, almost 90% of patients reported that symptom, and a Vanderbilt University Medical Center study went so far as to find that some 25% of people diagnosed with coronavirus report this as their one and only symptom. And now, we’re learning even more critical information related to the sense of smell being connected to the presence of COVID-19 — particularly, regarding when people report losing the ability to identify specific smells.

A new study out of India tried to identify if the loss of certain smells could be more of a warning sign, settling on five common odors that most people there would be familiar with and would have readily available: Peppermint, fennel, coconut oil, garlic, and cardamom. The testers also created a test kit, to make things even easier, so that people could try this test at home.

As we noted previously, loss of smell is also among the symptoms that people suffering from what’s starting to be referred to as “long-COVID” have reported. So the results of this study are particularly useful, and here’s what it found:

The study participants who said they had trouble smelling coconut oil and peppermint were found to be most likely to show a positive COVID-19 test. Almost 25% of participants couldn’t smell the peppermint, and almost 21% of participants reported being unable to smell the coconut oil.

The team at Vanderbilt, in explaining why and how a virus can lead to the loss of smell and taste, answered this way: “One possibility is that people with upper respiratory infections often have congestion, drainage and other nasal symptoms that can block odor’s ability to reach the smell nerve, which sits at the top of the nasal cavity.”

“But, we believe the primary cause, particularly for people with extended or permanent loss of smell function, is that the virus causes an inflammatory reaction inside the nose that can lead to a loss of the olfactory, or smell, neurons.”

Andy Meek Trending News Editor

Andy Meek is a reporter based in Memphis who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming.

Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.