Does Omicron affect taste and smell? Symptoms of Covid variant explained - and how long they last

Symptoms of the Omicron variant have been likened to the common cold and differ from previous Covid strains
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The highly transmissible Omicron variant has fuelled Covid-19 infections across the UK, with three in 10 local authority areas now reporting record high rates.

North West England, the West Midlands and East Midland have recorded the highest rate of new cases, with scientists saying around three-quarters of people with cold-like symptoms are likely to have coronavirus.

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The ZOE Covid Study estimates that 75% of people with cold symptoms may actually have symptomatic Covid-19 and experts have now called on the government to update government advice to help detect cases.

Loss of taste or smell has been reported less frequently after Omicron infection (Photo: Shutterstock)Loss of taste or smell has been reported less frequently after Omicron infection (Photo: Shutterstock)
Loss of taste or smell has been reported less frequently after Omicron infection (Photo: Shutterstock)

Dr Claire Steves, scientist on the ZOE Covid Study app, the fact that 75% of new cold-like symptoms are Covid, and the classic symptoms are much less common, means the government advice needs to be urgently updated.

“We want to see symptoms like sore throat, headache and runny nose added to the list as soon as possible.”

But what impact does Omicron have on sense of taste and smell? Here’s what you need to know about the symptoms.

Does Omicron cause loss of taste or smell?

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The NHS lists three main symptoms as a sign of Covid-19, including a high temperature, a new continuous cough, and a loss or change to your sense of taste or smell.

The latter means people who have coronavirus tend not be able to smell or taste anything properly, or things will smell or taste slightly different to normal.

However, the symptoms associated with Omicron have so far been found to differ from these ‘traditional’ symptoms, and are closer in nature to the common cold.

In a meeting of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) last week, members said: “There is some preliminary evidence emerging of changes in reported symptoms with Omicron infection.

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“In particular, loss of taste or smell seem to be reported less frequently.”

Professor Tim Spector of King’s College London, who is leading a study in Covid-19 symptoms, also warned about Omicron symptoms being different from previous strains.

He warned that many people may not realise they have Covid-19 and will instead mistake it for a common cold because they do not have a cough, fever, or loss of taste or smell.

However, the government has not changed its official symptoms list since last spring, despite new signs of infection emerging.

What are the symptoms of Omicron?

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The Omicron variant appears to cause milder illness than previous strains based on findings so far, with people most likely to suffer cold-like symptoms.

The most commonly reported symptoms include the following:

  • Fatigue
  • Body aches and pains
  • Headache
  • Scratchy throat 
  • Night sweats
  • Dry cough
  • Fever 
  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Nausea

How long will symptoms last?

For most people, symptoms should last for around five days before clearing up and will likely be mild.

If you feel unwell, getting plenty of rest and taking over-the-counter painkillers, such as paracetamol, should help to ease the effects.

If your symptoms get worse and you are concerned, you can get advice from the NHS online, or by calling 111.

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