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Olfactory Dysfunction Most Often Occurs by Third Day of COVID-19

Loss of smell, usually severe and accompanied by loss of taste, may signal later shortness of breath

TUESDAY, May 12, 2020 (HealthDay News) — Olfactory dysfunction (OD) occurs commonly, severely, and early in COVID-19 infection, according to a study published online May 5 in Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery.

Marlene M. Speth, M.D., from Kantonsspital Aarau in Switzerland, and colleagues evaluated the prevalence, severity, and timing of OD in COVID-19 relative to other sinonasal and pulmonary symptoms using data from 103 patients diagnosed with COVID-19 with reverse-transcriptase polymerase chain reaction-based testing during a six-week period.

The researchers found that the prevalence of OD was 61.2 percent and severity of OD was strongly correlated with severity of loss of taste experienced (P < 0.001). On the first day of COVID-19, 8.7 percent of patients reported experiencing OD, while overall OD occurred at a median of infection day 3. The mean severity of OD was moderate-to-severe, with most who experienced OD reporting anosmia. While there was no correlation with OD, nasal obstruction (49.5 percent) and rhinorrhea (35 percent) were frequently reported. Shortness of breath was more severe in patients with OD. There was a negative association between OD and older age (odds ratio, 0.96; 95 percent confidence interval, 0.93 to 0.99; P = 0.007) and a positive association with female gender (odds ratio, 2.46; 95 percent confidence interval, 0.98 to 6.19; P = 0.056).

“If someone has a decreased sense of smell with COVID-19 we know they are within the first week of the disease course and there is still another week or two to expect,” a coauthor said in a statement.

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