Rhinology. 2020 Aug 19. doi: 10.4193/Rhin20.251. Online ahead of print.
Anosmia constitutes a prominent symptom of COVID-19. However, anosmia is also a common symptom of acute colds of various origins. In contrast to an acute cold, it appears from several questionnaire-based studies that in the context of COVID-19 infection, anosmia is the main rhinological symptom and is usually not associated with other rhinological symptoms such as rhinorrhoea or nasal obstruction. Until now, no study has directly compared smell and taste function between COVID-19 patients and patients with other causes of upper respiratory tract infection (URTI) using valid and reliable psychophysical tests. In this study, we aimed to objectively assess and compare olfactory and gustatory functions in 10 COVID-19 patients (PCR diagnosed, assessed on average 2 weeks after infection), 10 acute cold (AC) patients (assessed before the COVID-19 outbreak) and 10 healthy controls, matched for age and sex. Smell performance was assessed using the extended "Sniffin' Sticks" test battery (4), while taste function was assessed using "taste strips" (5). Receiver Operating Characteristic (ROC) curves were built to probe olfactory and gustatory scores in terms of their discrimination between COVID-19 and AC patients. Our results suggest that mechanisms of COVID-19 related olfactory dysfunction are different from those seen in an AC and may reflect, at least to some extent, a specific involvement at the level of central nervous system in some COVID-19 patients. In the future, studies to assess the prevalence of persistent anosmia and neuroanatomical changes on MRI correlated to chemosensory function, will be useful to understand these mechanisms.