More than smell - COVID-19 is associated with severe impairment of smell, taste, and chemesthesis
Recent anecdotal and scientific reports have provided evidence of a link between COVID-19 and chemosensory impairments, such as anosmia. However, these reports have downplayed or failed to distinguish potential effects on taste, ignored chemesthesis, and generally lacked quantitative measurements. Here, we report the development, implementation, and initial results of a multilingual, international questionnaire to assess self-reported quantity and quality of perception in 3 distinct chemosensory modalities (smell, taste, and chemesthesis) before and during COVID-19. In the first 11 days after questionnaire launch, 4039 participants (2913 women, 1118 men, and 8 others, aged 19-79) reported a COVID-19 diagnosis either via laboratory tests or clinical assessment. Importantly, smell, taste, and chemesthetic function were each significantly reduced compared to their status before the disease. Difference scores (maximum possible change ±100) revealed a mean reduction of smell (−79.7 ± 28.7, mean ± standard deviation), taste (−69.0 ± 32.6), and chemesthetic (−37.3 ± 36.2) function during COVID-19. Qualitative changes in olfactory ability (parosmia and phantosmia) were relatively rare and correlated with smell loss. Importantly, perceived nasal obstruction did not account for smell loss. Furthermore, chemosensory impairments were similar between participants in the laboratory test and clinical assessment groups. These results show that COVID-19-associated chemosensory impairment is not limited to smell but also affects taste and chemesthesis. The multimodal impact of COVID-19 and the lack of perceived nasal obstruction suggest that severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus strain 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection may disrupt sensory-neural mechanisms.