How can you tell if you’ve lost your sense of smell? 

June 18, 2020

This article has not been updated recently

It's fair to say that most of us know how to test for a fever and cough, but how can you test for the loss of smell?

The loss of smell and taste was recently added to the UK Government’s official list of COVID symptoms, alongside a fever and persistent cough. This is fantastic news as for a long time we have been calling for the government to recognise it. 

The COVID Symptom Study app found that the prevalence of loss of smell and taste is very high, affecting 60% of people with Covid-19 at some point in the illness. It can also last fir several weeks in some people, with the average duration being five days. Rates were three-fold higher in individuals testing positive than in those testing negative, suggesting that it is a very good predictor of being infectious and people with loss of smell and taste should self-isolate.

When it comes to testing for the symptoms of fever and cough, it’s fair to say that a lot of us know how to test for these things, such as using a thermometer for temperature. But with the announcement of loss of smell, it’s not as obvious how to test this.

We talked to Professor Carl Philpott from Fifth Sense, the UK based charity supporting people affected by smell and taste disorders, who gave us some great insights into how you can test yourself and your family for the loss of smell. 

Testing your sense of smell at home

“There are a number of internationally recognised clinical/scientific Smell Identification Tests used to assess and diagnose smell disorders. Studies often use scents that cover a range of everyday smells, but the most important thing is that you use things that have a distinctive smell that are easily identifiable and are familiar to those you are testing.” 

“For example, for children, things like orange, vanilla and mint are smells children of all ages are likely to be able to identify. For adults, garlic, coffee, and coconut are additional scents you can use. However, this is not an exhaustive list, and you can adapt what you use to best suit the culture, age range and circumstances on every individual.” 

“You should have a number of smells already in your cupboard at home that you can use, so there’s no need to purchase anything special for these tests. All you need to make sure is that, the smell that is safe to hold reasonably close to your nose - make sure you avoid any potential irritants like air freshener, bleach or other strong smells that can cause a tingling sensation or harm to the nasal passage. Some nice cupboard examples are; a jar of coffee, grated zest of an orange/lemon/lime in a bowl, a sprig of mint or basil plant, a fragranced shampoo (coconut is good). Just hold the item close (but not touching) your nose and inhale. Simple!”

“Another option is using perfume or an essential oil. Spray some of the liquid on a fragrance strip or a tissue and hold underneath your nose and inhale. Identify whether or not you can detect a smell.”

So if you want to test your or your family members' sense of smell at home, we suggest taking one of these recommended cupboard staples and pass a small amount underneath the nose whilst inhaling through the nose lightly. 

If you would like more information about loss of taste and smell, head to the Fifth Sense website where you will find lots of resources, support and advice. 

Report your health daily, even if you are well

A new loss of smell or taste is just one of many COVID-19 symptoms that we are documenting in the COVID Symptom Study app. If you haven’t done so already, we encourage you to download the app and report how you are feeling daily, even if you are well, to help us better understand COVID-19 and stop the spread of the virus.

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