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High Frequency of Smell and Taste Dysfunction in Health Care Professionals With COVID-19 Working in Allergy Departments

Antolín Amérigo D1*, Cubero JL2*, Colás C2, Alobid I3**, Mullol J4**, Valero A5**

Allergy Department, Hospital Universitario Ramón y Cajal, Instituto Ramón y Cajal de Investigación Sanitaria (IRYCIS), Madrid, Spain
2Allergy Department, Hospital Clínico Universitario Lozano Blesa, Instituto de Investigación Sanitaria Aragón (IIS Aragón), Zaragoza, Spain
3Rhinology and Skull Base Unit, Department of Otorhinolaryngology, Hospital Clinic, Universidad de Barcelona. IDIBAPS, CIBERES, Barcelona, Spain
4Rhinology Unit & Smell Clinic, Department of Otorhinolaryngology, Hospital Clinic, Universitat de Barcelona, Institut d'Investigacions Biomèdiques August Pi i Sunyer (IDIBAPS), CIBER of Respiratory Diseases (CIBERES). Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain
5Department of Pneumology and Allergy, Hospital Clínic, Institut d'Investigacions Biomèdiques August Pi i Sunyer (IDIBAPS), CIBERES, Instituto de Salud Carlos III, Spain
*These authors contributed equally as first authors.
**These authors contributed equally with senior responsibilities.

J Investig Allergol Clin Immunol 2021; Vol 31(2) : 151-161
doi: 10.18176/jiaci.0670

Introduction: Since the early stages of the novel coronavirus 2019 (SARS-CoV-2) outbreak, smell and/or taste dysfunction (STD) has been reported in 5% to 88% of COVID-19 patients.
Objective: We aimed to assess STD in health care professionals (HCPs), mainly allergists, affected by COVID-19. We carried out a survey to evaluate the association between STD and its severity and demographic characteristics, symptoms, comorbidities, and hospital admission.
Methods: We designed a 15-item questionnaire comprising various sections, as follows: demographics, diagnostic characteristics, STD patterns, medication use, and comorbidities. The questionnaire was developed using Google forms. It was distributed to members of the Spanish Society of Allergology and Clinical Immunology (SEAIC) and sent via social media to be completed by HCPs with COVID-19.
Results: The survey was completed by HCPs (n=234), of whom 76.5% were aged ≤55 years and 73.5% were female. STD was detected in 74.4% of respondents, of whom 95.6% reported moderate-severe impairment. Mean time until recovery of taste dysfunction was 21.6 (24.0) days in HCPs aged ≤55 years and 33.61±26.2 days in those aged >55 years (P=.019). Analysis stratified by severity of STD showed that more than a half of COVID-19 patients presented severe loss of smell. Older age (>55 years) was associated with fever, anorexia, lower frequency of headache, and longer persistence of taste dysfunction.
Conclusion: STD is a common symptom in COVID-19, even as a unique or preceding symptom. HCPs who reported smell dysfunction were younger than those not affected with STD. Taste dysfunction may imply more systemic involvement in COVID-19–positive HCPs.

Key words: Smell dysfunction, Hyposmia, Anosmia, Taste dysfunction, Ageusia, Hypogeusia, SARS-CoV-2, COVID-19