The UK Government announced on Monday 18th May that it is adding loss of smell or taste, known in medical terms as anosmia, to the official list of COVID-19 symptoms. The other two official symptoms being a persistent cough and high fever.

Anosmia is the loss or a change in your normal sense of smell. It can also affect your sense of taste as the two are closely linked.

The government now recommends that anyone who experiences anosmia should self-isolate for at least seven days even if they experience no other symptoms.

You do not need to keep self-isolating after seven days, unless you have developed a high temperature or are unwell, says the advice.

The inclusion of sudden loss of smell is important as it may be an early – and sometimes the only – symptom of COVID-19 infection. It is also a symptom that individuals can easily detect for themselves without the need for a test.


Stories had been circulating for some weeks in the media and online that loss of taste and smell were common symptoms of COVID-19 but the government were reluctant to add the condition to the official list of symptoms because of a lack of clinical evidence to back up these claims.

However a recent study by Kings College London has added significantly to the weight of evidence. Using an app, researchers gathered information from over 1.5m people in the UK who believe they might have had coronavirus. The COVID Symptom Study app showed that 65% of those who tested positive for the disease experienced a loss of smell and taste, and this symptom was by far the best predictor of COVID-19.

The World Health Organization recently announced that a sudden loss of sense of smell should be added to the symptoms of COVID-19. The UK government has followed suit stating: “From today (18th May), all individuals should self-isolate if they develop a new continuous cough or fever or anosmia.”

Early Warning Sign?

Several studies from around the world report that the loss of smell can occur before other symptoms, or as the only symptom, possibly acting as an early indication of infection. A US study found anosmia appearing as the first symptom in 27% of their responses.

Loss of taste and smell could be an early warning sign.

What To Do?

If you experience a sudden loss of smell or taste you should self-isolate for seven days. In simple terms this means behaving as if you are infectious. Do not go out, and minimise contact with those you live with, taking every precaution not to pass the infection on.

You can find out more information about how to self isolate here.