People often confuse smell loss with taste loss, so it is unclear how much gustatory function is reduced in patients self-reporting taste loss. Our pre-registered cross-sectional study design included an online survey in 12 languages with instructions for self-administering chemosensory tests with 10 household items. Between June 2020 and March 2021, 10,953 individuals participated. Of these, 5,225 self-reported a respiratory illness and were grouped based on their reported COVID test results: COVID-positive (COVID+, N = 3,356), COVID-negative (COVID−, N = 602), and COVID unknown for those waiting for a test result (COVID?, N = 1,267). The participants who reported no respiratory illness were grouped by symptoms: sudden smell/taste changes (STC, N = 4,445), other symptoms excluding smell or taste changes (OthS, N = 832), and no symptoms (NoS, N = 416). Taste, smell, and oral irritation intensities and self-assessed abilities were rated on visual analog scales. Compared to the NoS group, COVID+ was associated with a 21% reduction in taste (95% confidence interval (CI): 15–28%), 47% in smell (95% CI: 37–56%), and 17% in oral irritation (95% CI: 10–25%) intensity. There were medium to strong correlations between perceived intensities and self-reported abilities (r = 0.84 for smell, r = 0.68 for taste, and r = 0.37 for oral irritation). Our study demonstrates that COVID-19-positive individuals report taste dysfunction when self-tested with stimuli that have little to none olfactory components. Assessing the smell and taste intensity of household items is a promising, cost-effective screening tool that complements self-reports and may help to disentangle taste loss from smell loss. However, it does not replace standardized validated psychophysical tests.

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