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May 21, 2020

COVID-19 and Smell Loss - Dr Jane K Parker's view

by Dr Jane K Parker, University of Reading

Dr Jane K Parker and Chrissi Kelly have been working together on a Parosmia project at the University of Reading and on the GCCR, described below. Here are her thoughts on the GCCR survey which is yielding interesting results about the link between COVID-19 and smell loss:

Early indications that there might be a link between Covid-19 and smell loss started to spread on social media, much of this being channelled through the AbScent website and Facebook pages. In mid-March, the Global Consortium for Chemosensory Research (GCCR) was set up to investigate this. It grew rapidly to >700 members from 50 different countries, and it is now a vibrant platform coordinating worldwide crowdsourced research. AbScent founder, Chris Kelly, was in there right from the start, and the AbScent Trustee, Simon Gane, all the AbScent Advisory Board members, and those managing the Facebook pages are all actively involved. I’m very pleased, and very proud to be part of it.

Within days, the first global survey was circulating, and this went live in 25 different languages on April 7th. Unlike many other surveys, we were careful to separate out the three things we were interested in looking at. These were:

  • Changes in ability to smell – focussing on things like sniffing flowers, soap or food while it’s cooking, but NOT food in your mouth.

  • Changes in ability to taste – focussing on sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami (or savoury) tastes in your mouth

  • Changes in perception of heat from chillies, or cooling sensations from gum or toothpaste.

    Within 11 days we had collected 13,000 responses and this was enough to start looking at the preliminary data. To make these early observations as robust as possible, we initially only looked at the ~4,000 people that had been diagnosed with Covid-19, either by a doctor or by a swab test. These early results were very convincing and showed:

  • An average drop in ability to smell of 80%

  • An average drop in ability to taste of 69%

  • An average drop in ability to perceive hot or cold sensations of 37%

    We also recorded whether the drop in ability to smell was just in fact linked to a blocked nose, and it turns out not to be the case. This is interesting because we now have evidence that the loss of smell is not due to a physical blockage, and we can focus our attention on looking for biomolecular and neural mechanisms.

Take the survey here.

Look out for the next surveys:

The Smell and Taste Change survey is out and looking more at the timings of smell loss.

There is a GCCR “home-test” coming out where you can participate by monitoring your sense of smell by sniffing a range of household items on a regular basis. And due out soon is a tracker for those who after several weeks are experiencing distorted smells or have only partially recovered.

Dr Jane K. Parker
Associate Professor in Food Science and AbScent Advisory Board Member