London researchers join global initiative to study loss of smell in COVID-19 patients


LONDON, ON – As part of an initiative called the Global Consortium for Chemosensory Research (GCCR), scientists at Lawson Health Research Institute and Western University are studying the sudden loss of smell in COVID-19 patients. They are asking individuals with confirmed or presumptive cases of COVID-19 worldwide to participate in a survey to better understand this symptom.

A sudden loss of smell, called anosmia, has been widely reported as a marker of COVID-19. More research is needed but emerging evidence suggests that more than 60 per cent of COVID-19 patients experience anosmia and that it is often the first symptom of the disease. 

“While a sudden loss of smell is relatively rare, it is most commonly caused by an upper respiratory tract infection. It therefore stands to reason that COVID-19 could be causing anosmia,” says Dr. Leigh Sowerby, Associate Scientist at Lawson and Associate Professor at Western University’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry. “Colleagues in the United Kingdom first made note of this with a surge of patients presenting with sudden loss of smell and many of these patients went on to develop COVID-19.”

In the new study, patients with loss of smell will answer questions through a publicly accessible survey. They will be asked about their experiences with COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses. An immediate goal is to better understand the association between anosmia and COVID-19, and determine if loss of smell is the same in symptomatic and asymptomatic patients. The team also hopes to determine if loss of smell happens before other symptoms of COVID-19 as it could allow for earlier self-isolation advice.

“As a sinus surgeon, I see many patients who have lost their sense of smell. It really is the forgotten sense; we don’t appreciate smell until it’s gone,” explains Dr. Sowerby, who is also an Otolaryngologist at St. Joseph’s Health Care London. “Smell is a very important part of taste. Imagine if all food tasted like cardboard, and all you could do was make that cardboard taste spicy, salty, sweet or bitter. It can also be a safety concern if you cannot smell a gas leak, burning food or smoke.”

While there are existing therapies that can aid in regaining a sense of smell, it’s currently unknown whether they are effective for COVID-19 patients. 

“We don’t yet know the long-term consequences of anosmia in COVID-19 patients and that’s why this research is important,” adds Dr. Sowerby. “I encourage anyone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 or another respiratory illness to complete our survey if able.”

The GCCR survey is currently available in 10 languages at



Dr. Leigh Sowerby


Dr. Sowerby


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About Lawson Health Research Institute

Lawson Health Research Institute is one of Canada’s top hospital-based research institutes, tackling the most pressing challenges in health care. As the research institute of London Health Sciences Centre and St. Joseph’s Health Care London, our innovation happens where care is delivered. Lawson research teams are at the leading-edge of science with the goal of improving health and the delivery of care for patients. Working in partnership with Western University, our researchers are encouraged to pursue their curiosity, collaborate often and share their discoveries widely. Research conducted through Lawson makes a difference in the lives of patients, families and communities around the world. To learn more, visit

About Western

Western delivers an academic experience second to none. Since 1878, The Western Experience has combined academic excellence with life-long opportunities for intellectual, social and cultural growth in order to better serve our communities. Our research excellence expands knowledge and drives discovery with real-world application. Western attracts individuals with a broad worldview, seeking to study, influence and lead in the international community.

About Global Consortium for Chemosensory Research

The Global Consortium for Chemosensory Research (GCCR) is a group of global transdisciplinary scientists, clinicians, and patient advocates founded in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. With more than 500 members in 30 countries, the GCCR will harness their reach to conduct and analyze worldwide evidence-based research to combat the spread of COVID-19.

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