Importance: Prevalence of post-viral olfactory loss has increased dramatically due to the frequency and severity of olfactory dysfunction associated with infection by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Objective: To determine the trajectory of COVID-19 olfactory loss over a six-month period. A key secondary objective is to assess predictive factors associated with the recovery of olfaction. Design: Longitudinal repeated-measures study that enrolled from May 5, 2020 to February 2, 2021, with the last date of data collection on June 15, 2021. Setting: Barnes-Jewish HealthCare/Washington University School of Medicine facilities (Saint Louis, Missouri, USA). Participants: Individuals who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 by real-time polymerase chain reaction on nasopharyngeal swab and indicated olfactory loss on COVID-19 screening questionnaire. Individuals were excluded if they had previously diagnosed history of olfactory loss, neurodegenerative disorders, <18 years of age, admitted to hospital service, unable to read, write, and understand English, or lacked computer or internet access. Interventions/exposures: Watch and wait for spontaneous recovery. Main outcome(s) and measure(s): Participants completed olfactory assessments every 30 days for six months. Each assessment consisted of the University of Pennsylvania Smell Identification Test (UPSIT), an objective “scratch-and-sniff” test, and Clinical Global Impressions (CGI), a subjective Likert rating scale. Results: The mean age was 41 years old (SD = 16). 39 (80 %) were female and 42 (86 %) white. At baseline assessment of objective olfaction, 18 (36 %) participants had anosmia or severe hyposmia. Subjective, complete recovery at six months was 81 % (95 % CI 74 % to 88 %). Likelihood of recovery was associated with age <50 years (aHR = 8.1 (95 % CI 1.1 to 64.1)) and mild olfactory loss at baseline (UPSIT = 30–33 for males and 31–34 for females) (aHR 6.2 (95 % CI 1.2 to 33.0)). Conclusions and relevance: The trajectory of olfactory recovery among adults with COVID-19 olfactory loss illustrated rapid recovery within 2–3 weeks of infection, and by six months 81 % had recovered based on self-report. Age <50 years old and mild severity of olfactory loss at baseline were associated with increased likelihood of recovery of olfaction. These findings can be used to inform shared decision-making with patients.

Original languageEnglish
Article number103572
JournalAmerican Journal of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Medicine and Surgery
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1 2022


  • Anosmia
  • COVID-19
  • Hyposmia
  • Olfactory loss
  • SARS-CoV-2


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