Anosmia is the partial or complete loss of the sense of smell. 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. How can one identify anosmia and know whether it is a cause for concern? Professor Claire Hopkins, Consultant ENT Surgeon at London Bridge Hospital – part of HCA Healthcare spoke exclusively to Express.co.uk to provide further clarity on the anosmia symptom.
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When asked what are the typical symptoms of anosmia, Professor Hopkins replied: “Anosmia is the inability to smell things.
“The loss of smell can be very sudden, as with head injuries or viral infections, or may come on more gradually, with age related loss. It affects includes both good and bad odours – such as strong coffee or a baby’s nappy.
“Other than the obvious symptom of not being able to smell, anosmia can also appear to affect our sense of taste.
“We only really taste sweet, salty, sour, bitter or meat tastes, and all the rest of flavour comes from our sense of smell.
“So, when we lose this it impairs our ability to detect flavours when we eat, and food tastes very bland”
As to the causes of anosmia, Professor Hopkins said: “There are many different causes of loss of sense of smell.
“We can divide causes into two groups – diseases that cause nasal blockage and obstruct the passage of odorants into the top of the nose, where the smell nerve endings are found, or diseases that directly affect the nerves.
“It is usually quite obvious if your nose is blocked as a cause of smell loss, and causes include nasal polyps, and severe hay fever.
“In these cases, the sense of smell may seem to come and go a little as the severity of nasal blockage varies.
“Nerve injury can occur following a head injury or following a viral infection such as a common cold.
“Anosmia can also be caused as a result of aging, whereby it’ll be a gradual process – with 80% of those suffering being over the age of 75.
“Loss of sense of smell can also sometimes be associated with neurodegenerative disorders including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
“In addition to this, cocaine overuse can also lead to anosmia, or sometimes it may occur as a side effect of prescribed medications.
“Rarely, sense of smell can be absent from birth if the smell nerves don’t develop properly.
“Loss of smell is now considered a symptom of Covid-19.
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“The reason people with Covid-19 may lose their sense of smell is because the virus injures the nerve endings in the olfactory epithelium and damages the olfactory bulb.
“Research suggests that loss of sense of smell is one of the most common symptoms of Covid-19, with it affecting between 70-80% of patients.
“Some patients may have loss of smell as the only symptom, while others may develop the better-known symptoms such as a fever or persistent cough alongside it.
“Studies have shown that in patients who have suddenly lost their sense of smell during the pandemic, 95% have been shown to have Covid-19 when tested.”
When it comes to those individuals who are experiencing symptoms of a loss of smell and taste and worried about the next steps, Professor Hopkins advised: “If you find that you are experiencing anosmia, then book an appointment with your local GP or an ENT specialist if it lasts for more than two to three weeks.
“In order to diagnose anosmia, your doctor will likely use a special instrument to look inside your nose.
“They will be looking to see if anything is causing nasal blockage, such as a polyp, or if the cause is likely to related to nerve damage.”
“If you have suddenly lost your sense of smell at the current time it is likely to be caused by COVID-; please self-isolate and arrange testing through NHS111.”
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