Better measures reveal more COVID-19 smell loss

October 15, 2020

PHILADELPHIA (October 12, 2020) - Smell loss is a frequently reported symptom of COVID-19 but reports of prevalence vary from study-to-study and range from 5% to 98%. With such a wide range of estimates, it is difficult to prioritize its importance for testing and treatment.

Investigators, led by the Monell Chemical Senses Center, determined in part why the reports vary so much. They reviewed existing research to determine whether the studies that used direct measures versus self-report of smell loss could explain the range of estimates. They found that with direct measures, about 77% of COVID-19 patients had smell loss versus only 44% with self-report.

Direct measures of smell ability involve having patients smell and report on actual odorants, whereas self-report methods include obtaining data through patient questionnaires, interviews, or electronic health records. Direct measures are objective whereas self-report are subjective measures of a person's experience.

"Objective measures are a more sensitive method to identify smell loss related to COVID-19," said first author Mackenzie E. Hannum, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at Monell.

On the other hand, subjective measures, "while expedient during the early stages of the pandemic, underestimate the true prevalence of smell loss," said Vicente A. Ramirez, a doctoral student at the University of California, Merced and Monell summer intern. Drs. Hannum and Ramirez are both investigators in the lab of senior author Danielle R. Reed, PhD, Associate Director at Monell.

Their research suggests subjective methodologies underestimate the true prevalence of loss of smell and that smell loss may be an effective screening method for early COVID-19 detection. The team published their findings in Chemical Senses, which is available as an open-access paper.

The disparity between the reported prevalence of loss of smell in objective and subjective methods calls for further examination of the consequences of self-report. "Measuring people for smell loss may become as routine as measuring body temperature for fever" said Reed.

Coauthor Paule Joseph, PhD, a clinician at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) adds, "measurement of smell should be a part of all COVID-19 clinical exams and is a valuable screening tool."

Researchers do not yet have a clear picture of the trajectory of COVID-19-induced smell loss; the team found varied reports among the studies they analyzed. Several studies reported significant improvements quickly after the onset of symptoms. However, other studies said that many patients still had not returned to a normal sense of smell more than two weeks after the beginning of smell loss.
In addition to Monell and UC, Merced, researchers from the Division of Intramural Research, National Institute of Nursing Research contributed to this research. Dr. Hannum is supported by NIH T32 funding (DC000014). Coauthor Paule Joseph is supported by the National Institute of Nursing Research (1ZIANR000035-01) and by the Office of Workforce Diversity, NIH, and the Rockefeller University Heilbrunn Nurse Scholar Award.

NOTE TO EDITORS: This open-access paper.

The Monell Chemical Senses Center is an independent nonprofit basic research institute based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Founded in 1968, Monell's mission is to improve health and wellbeing by advancing the scientific understanding of taste, smell, and related senses, where our discoveries lead to improving nutritional health, diagnosing and treating disease, addressing smell and taste loss, and digitizing chemosensory data.

Monell Chemical Senses Center

Related Electronic Health Records Articles from Brightsurf:

Inclusion of patient headshots in electronic health records decreases order errors
Analysis of the millions of orders placed for participating patients over a two-year span showed the rate of wrong patient order entry to be 35 percent lower for patients whose photos were included in their EHR.

Opioid use disorder? Electronic health records help pinpoint probable patients
A new study suggests that patients with opioid use disorder may be identified using information available in electronic health records, even when diagnostic codes do not reflect this diagnosis.

Largest study to date of electronic dental records reviews understudied populations
The largest study to date of electronic dental records (EDRs) delves into both previously inaccessible data and data from understudied populations with the ultimate goal of improving oral treatment outcomes.

Electronic health records fail to detect up to 33% of medication errors
Despite improvements in their performance over the past decade, electronic health records (EHRs) commonly used in hospitals nationwide fail to detect up to one in three potentially harmful drug interactions and other medication errors, according to scientists at University of Utah Health, Harvard University, and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

Mass General team detects Alzheimer's early using electronic health records
A team of scientists has developed a software-based method of scanning electronic health records to estimate the risk that a person will receive a dementia diagnosis.

Yale study: Doctors give electronic health records an 'F'
The transition to electronic health records (EHRs) was supposed to improve the quality and efficiency of healthcare for doctors and patients alike -- but these technologies get an 'F' rating for usability from health care professionals, and may be contributing to high rates of professional burnout, according to a new Yale-led study.

Regenstrief scientist recommends ways to improve electronic health records
In an editorial in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, Regenstrief Institute research scientist Michael Weiner, MD, MPH highlights shortcomings of electronic health records (EHRs) in living up to their full potential, and suggests ways to use EHRs to work more efficiently and ultimately more effectively for patients.

FutureNeuro researchers integrate genomics data in to electronic patient records
Researchers from the HSE Epilepsy Lighthouse Project and FutureNeuro, the SFI Research Centre for Chronic and Rare Neurological Diseases hosted by RCSI, have developed a new genomics module in the Irish National Epilepsy Electronic Patient Record (EPR) system.

New research finds private practice physicians less likely to maintain electronic records
The research led by Jordan Everson, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Health Policy at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC), finds striking differences in use of electronic health records (EHRs) among more than 291,000 physicians included in the study.

Electronic health records decision support reduces inappropriate use of GI test
Programming a hospital's electronic health record system (EHR) to provide information on appropriate use of a costly gastrointestinal panel and to block unnecessary orders reduced inappropriate testing by 46% and saved up to $168,000 over 15 months, according to a study published today in Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology, the journal of the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America.

Read More: Electronic Health Records News and Electronic Health Records Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to