In some patients, coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is accompanied by loss of smell and taste, and this has been reportedly associated with exposure to air pollutants. This study investigated the relationship between the occurrence of chemosensory dysfunction in COVID-19 patients and air pollutant concentrations in Korea.
Information on the clinical symptom of chemosensory dysfunction, the date of diagnosis, residential area, age, and sex of 60,194 confirmed COVID-19 cases reported to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency from January 20 to December 31, 2020 was collected. In addition, the daily average concentration of air pollutants for a week in the patients' residential area was collected from the Ministry of Environment based on the date of diagnosis of COVID-19. A binomial logistic regression model, using age and gender, standardized smoking rate, number of outpatient visits, 24-hour mean temperature and relative humidity at the regional level as covariates, was used to determine the effect of air pollution on chemosensory dysfunction.
Symptoms of chemosensory dysfunction were most frequent among patients in their 20s and 30s, and occurred more frequently in large cities. The logistic analysis showed that the concentration of particulate matter 10 (PM10) and 2.5 (PM2.5) up to 2 days before the diagnosis of COVID-19 and the concentration of sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), carbon monoxide (CO), and ozone (O3) at least 7 days before the diagnosis of COVID-19 affected the development of chemosensory dysfunction. In the logistic regression model adjusted for age, sex, standardized smoking rate, number of outpatient visits, and daily average temperature and relative humidity, it was found that an increase in the interquartile range of PM10, PM2.5, SO2, NO2, and CO on the day of diagnosis increased the incidence of chemosensory dysfunction 1.10, 1.10, 1.17, 1.31, and 1.19-fold, respectively. In contrast, the O3 concentration had a negative association with chemosensory dysfunction.
High concentrations of air pollutants such as PM10, PM2.5, SO2, NO2, and CO on the day of diagnosis increased the risk of developing chemosensory dysfunction from COVID-19 infection. This result underscores the need to actively prevent exposure to air pollution and prevent COVID-19 infection. In addition, policies that regulate activities and products that create high amounts of harmful environmental wastes may help in promoting better health for all during COVID-19 pandemic.