Lost Your Sense of Smell? Is It COVID-19 or Something Else?

Losing your sense of smell is a hallmark symptom of COVID-19, however, it’s important to realize that other conditions can have the same effect. In addition, many who have COVID-19 may retain their sense of smell despite being infected with the virus.

So, what does that mean for you? How can you tell if the loss of your sense of smell is due to COVID-19 or something else?

The only way you can know for sure is to take a COVID-19 test. The reason is because, while there are subtle differences, COVID-19 and sinus issues often demonstrate some of the same symptoms. You can obtain a COVID test from your primary care provider, an urgent care, or a local testing site.

We’ll take a closer look at those differences and symptoms below, as well as why you should use testing to tell the difference.

Can Loss of Smell Be Something Other Than COVID-19?

Yes, there can be a loss of taste and smell that is not COVID-19. The medical term for a loss of smell is anosmia, and the word for loss of taste is ageusia. Since smell and taste are closely related, losing your sense of smell often affects your sense of taste.

There are several conditions that can cause a loss of smell. These include:

  • Many viral respiratory infections
  • The common cold
  • The flu
  • Sinus infections
  • Allergy problems
  • Smoking
  • Nasal polyps
  • Nasal or sinus tumors (very rare)

At Raleigh Capitol Ear, Nose and Throat, we treat patients who have demonstrated a persistent loss of smell for more than four weeks. We do NOT treat patients who have recently lost their sense of smell.

However, if you have recently experienced a recent loss of smell, we encourage you to go to your primary care provider, an urgent care center, or a testing site to take a COVID test.

We do NOT offer COVID testing at Raleigh Capitol ENT.

Why Do People Lose Their Sense of Smell When They Have COVID-19?

Scientists are still conducting research into what precisely causes the COVID-19 loss of smell (as well as why not all of those with COVID experience it).

Preliminary findings are that the COVID virus damages cells that help the olfactory neurons. In other words, the cells that are responsible for helping you smell.  The good news is that these cells can regenerate, which is why the loss of smell is typically temporary.

While it is not common, some who have had COVID will have permanent loss of smell. However, the majority show improvement in four weeks.

Is It COVID or Is It Something Else?

The Differences and Similarities Between COVID and Other Similar Viruses

The following chart is NOT a substitute for a reliable diagnosis or a COVID-19 test from your primary care provider, urgent care or testing center. However, it will give you a general idea of what illnesses can cause a loss of taste and smell.


Symptom COVID-19 Cold Flu Sinus Infection/Allergies
Fatigue Yes Sometimes Yes Sometimes
Cough Yes (dry cough) Yes Yes Sometimes
Sneezing Rarely Sometimes Sometimes (but not typically) Often
Sore Throat Yes Yes Yes Rarely
Breathing Problems Yes, and can be severe in certain cases. Yes, but is rarely severe Yes Sometimes, if accompanied by stuffy nose, but is rarely severe
Fever Yes Sometimes Yes, but not always No
Muscle Aches Yes Sometimes Yes No
Stuffy Nose Yes Yes Yes Yes
Loss of Taste or Smell Yes Sometimes (usually if the nose is stuffy) Rarely Sometimes (depending upon if the nose is stuffy)

As you can see, with so many similar symptoms, it can be very confusing. This is why we always encourage our patients to go to a testing center, primary care provider or urgent care to get a COVID test to get the most accurate diagnosis.

Updates to Our COVID Policies (as of 5/19/2022)

We are no longer taking temperatures and masks in our office are optional. We are no longer offering telemedicine appointments.

However, we can NOT see patients who have a COVID-related acute(recent) loss of smell.

Because the situation with the global pandemic is constantly evolving, we may adjust our policies as needed. Please return to our website for updates.

Raleigh Capitol Ear, Nose and Throat Has the Expertise You Need

If you have had a loss of smell that has continued for more than four weeks, we invite you to schedule an appointment with us so we can determine the reason behind it.

At Raleigh Capitol ENT, we can help you stay healthy and provide treatment for allergies, sinus infections and other conditions that can make you miserable.

Want to learn more about our services? Need help battling seasonal allergies? Perhaps you’re struggling with a spouse who snores.

Schedule an appointment with us today.  We look forward to being partners in your care.