Loss Of Taste And Smell

AARP: “Poor Sense of Smell May Double Risk of Dementia.”

What Causes a Loss of Taste, and How to Regain It

Your sense of taste and smell work together to make food enjoyable or warn you that it’s gone bad.

Every year, over 200,000 people seek care for taste or smell problems. These senses are so interwoven that sometimes, what seems to be the loss of taste is actually the loss of smell. True loss of taste (ageusia) is rare.

Many conditions can interfere with taste, but it usually returns when the cause is resolved. Loss of taste can be a sign of COVID-19 or another viral infection. Sometimes it lingers even after the infection has passed.

Depending on the cause, lack of taste may resolve on its own or by treating the cause. In the meantime, avoid the temptation to add extra sugar or salt to your food. Experiment with a variety of foods, herbs, and spices.

Read on as we explore some causes for loss of taste and how to get it back.

Change or loss of taste is commonly reported by people with COVID-19.

In an April 2021 study , researchers found that in a group of 200 people with mild to moderate COVID-19:

  • 7 percent lost their sense of taste (but not smell)
  • 4 percent lost their sense of smell and taste
  • 4.5 percent lost their sense of smell (but not taste)

Everybody who lost their taste regained it within 14 days. People who lost their sense of smell regained it within 21 days except for two people, who developed long-term loss of smell.

In a review of studies, researchers found impairment of taste or smell commonly occurred before other COVID-19 symptoms.

For a very small number of people, loss or change in taste may be long term.

The reason why COVID-19 can affect your taste isn’t entirely clear. But researchers have found that the epithelial cells in your mouth, including taste bud cells, contain receptors for the enzyme angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2). The virus that causes COVID-19 can enter cells through these receptors.

Other symptoms of COVID-19 include cough, fever, and fatigue. Difficulty breathing or chest pain signals a medical emergency.

Even with no other symptoms, loss of taste can be indicative of COVID-19, so speak with a doctor about testing or sign up for a test with a community provider. If you test positive, stay hydrated and get plenty of rest. Take over-the-counter (OTC) medicines for pain and fever.

Any type of infection of the upper respiratory tract can affect your sense of taste. Upper respiratory tract infections include the common cold and influenza, which can cause nasal congestion, coughing, and sneezing. The flu can also cause fever.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) , change or loss of taste or smell is more common with COVID-19 than the flu.

Cold and flu symptoms are treated with:

  • rest
  • antihistamines
  • decongestants
  • cough medicines and throat lozenges
  • prescription flu medicines

Antibiotics don’t work for viral infections like a cold or flu. They can be used for bacterial infections, such as strep throat and some ear infections.

You’ll probably regain your sense of taste as the infection clears. Some viral infections can cause permanent damage to taste.

Allergies and sinus infections can cause inflammation and congestion, which affects smell and taste. Sinus infections are treated with:

  • nasal rinses or sprays
  • OTC pain medications
  • antibiotics

Most people gradually regain their sense of smell and taste as other symptoms improve.

Nasal polyps are soft, painless bumps that grow in your nasal passages or sinuses. They’re caused by chronic inflammation associated with:

  • allergies
  • asthma
  • recurring infection
  • immune disorders
  • drug sensitivities

Aside from the loss of the sense of taste and smell, symptoms can include:

  • stuffiness, runny nose
  • facial pain and pressure
  • upper tooth pain
  • headache
  • snoring
  • frequent nosebleeds

In a 2018 study , researchers found that 28 percent of 68 people with chronic rhinosinusitis had taste loss. About 60 percent of the people in the study had chronic rhinosinusitis with polyps.

A doctor can prescribe medicines to shrink nasal polyps. They can also be surgically removed, but polyps can recur.

Some medicines can alter or diminish your sense of taste. These include:

  • psychotropic medications
  • bladder medications
  • antihistamines
  • antibiotics
  • cholesterol-lowering medications
  • blood pressure medications

Some medicines tend to cause dry mouth, which can make it harder to taste food.

If your medicine seems to affect your taste, don’t stop taking it until you speak with your doctor about alternatives. In the meantime, try to keep your mouth moist.

Chemotherapy and radiation to the head or neck can alter or weaken your sense of taste. This usually clears up once you finish treatment. In the meantime, here are some other things you can try:

  • Eat cold foods, which may be easier to taste than hot foods.
  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • Brush your teeth before and after eating.
  • Ask your doctor to recommend products that may help with dry mouth.
  • Mints, gum, and using plastic utensils instead of metal can help with a temporary metallic taste.
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People with dementia, including those with Alzheimer’s disease, can experience a decline in smell and taste. Other things that contribute to eating and nutritional difficulties include:

  • medications
  • trouble recognizing foods
  • difficulty going through the steps of eating a meal

Switching to different medications where possible may be helpful, but loss of taste due to dementia and aging is unlikely to be greatly improved. A licensed dietitian can help with meal planning and nutritional guidance.

Certain nutritional deficiencies could minimize your sense of taste. For example, zinc is vital to your senses of taste and smell. You can probably already get enough zinc through a normal, varied diet. Zinc is found in chicken, red meat, fortified breakfast cereals, and many other foods.

Women need 8 milligrams a day and men need 11 milligrams . If you think you may have a zinc deficiency, talk with a doctor about your diet and whether you should take a supplement. Don’t take supplements without first speaking with a doctor.

Anything that affects the mouth can certainly affect your sense of taste, such as:

  • wisdom tooth extraction
  • gum disease
  • infection
  • inadequate oral hygiene

If you have other dental symptoms, such as mouth pain, swelling, or a bad taste in your mouth, see a dentist. Treating the source of the problem should help restore your sense of taste. Good oral hygiene includes regular dental visits, and daily brushing and flossing.

It’s not unusual to gradually lose some sense of smell and taste as you age. It’s not normal to completely lose your sense of taste, though. Talk with a doctor about loss of taste and any other symptoms you have. Determining and treating the cause may help you get your taste back.

Exposure to high amounts of certain chemicals may contribute to loss of taste. For example, high pesticide exposure can cause long-lasting impairment of your sense of smell and taste.

Injury to the head can cause you to lose your sense of smell and taste. How long it lasts and how it’s treated depends on the location and extent of the injury.

Altered or lack of taste can be symptomatic of:

  • Parkinson’s disease
  • multiple sclerosis (MS)
  • underactive pituitary gland (hypopituitarism)

Although it’s not always the case, symptoms may improve with treatment for the underlying condition.

Other potential causes are:

  • smoking
  • drinking alcohol
  • burning your tongue

Your taste may improve if you cut back on smoking and drinking alcohol, or as your tongue heals from a burn. Quitting can be difficult, but a doctor can help you create a plan that works.

Losing your sense of taste while nursing a cold, allergies, or flu is likely temporary. But in some cases, it could be a sign of a serious condition. If it persists long term, it can lead to under or overeating, malnutrition, and poorer quality of life.

Talk with a doctor if loss of taste goes well beyond a recent bout of congestion or illness, has come on suddenly, or is accompanied by other symptoms.

If needed, a doctor can refer you to an otolaryngologist, also known as an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist for evaluation.

  • trouble breathing
  • persistent chest pain or pressure
  • confusion
  • inability to wake or stay awake
  • bluish or grayish lips or face
  • any other concerning symptoms

Diagnosis starts with a discussion of your symptoms, medical history, and physical examination of your ears, nose, and throat. An ENT doctor may ask you to taste and compare a variety of things to measure the extent of your taste problems.

This will help determine the cause or the next steps toward diagnosis.

Sense of taste is strongly connected to sense of smell. You need both to fully taste food.

Many things can interfere with taste, including allergies, colds, and influenza. Normal taste usually returns as other symptoms clear up.

If you have a lingering loss of taste, with or without other symptoms, see a doctor. It could be a sign of an underlying condition. Losing one’s sense of taste is also associated with COVID-19.

Treating the underlying cause can often help get your taste buds back on track.

Last medically reviewed on March 17, 2022

What’s Causing My Loss of Smell and Taste?

The Smell-Taste Connection

When your sense of smell goes south, taste usually follows. That’s because the olfactory area in your nose controls both. When you chew food, odor molecules enter the back of your nose. Your taste buds tell you if a food is sweet, sour, bitter, or salty. Your nose figures out the specifics, like if that sweet taste is a grape or an apple. If you plug up your nose, food doesn’t taste the same because you can’t smell it.

Age

Age

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As you age, you lose some of the olfactory nerve fibers in your nose. You have fewer taste buds, and the ones you have left aren’t as sharp, especially over age 60. This often affects your ability to notice salty or sweet tastes first, but don’t add more salt or sugar to your food. That could cause other health issues.

Illness or Infection

Illness or Infection

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Anything that irritates and inflames the inner lining of your nose and makes it feel stuffy, runny, itchy, or drippy can affect your senses of smell and taste. This includes the common cold, sinus infections, allergies, sneezing, congestion, the flu, and COVID-19. In most cases, your senses will return to normal when you feel better. If it’s been a couple of weeks, call your doctor.

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Obstructions

Obstructions

4/12

If you can’t get enough air through your nose, your sense of smell suffers. And smell affects taste. Blockages happen if you have nasal polyps. These are noncancerous tumors that grow in the lining of your nose and sinuses. Or you could have a deviated septum that makes one of your nasal passages smaller than the other. Both are treated with nasal sprays, medication, or surgery.

Head Injury

Head Injury

5/12

Your olfactory nerve carries scent information from your nose to your brain. Trauma to the head, neck, or brain can damage that nerve, as well as the lining of your nose, nasal passages, or the parts of your brain that process smell. You may notice it immediately or over time. In some cases, your senses return on their own, especially if the loss was mild to start. You may partly get better and only be able to taste or smell strong flavors and scents.

Certain Medical Conditions

Certain Medical Conditions

6/12

Doctors don’t understand why, but loss of smell can be an early warning sign of dementia, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s disease. Other medical conditions can damage the nerves that lead to the smell center of your brain, too. These include diabetes, Bell’s palsy, Huntington’s disease, Kleinfelter syndrome, multiple sclerosis, Paget’s disease of bone, and Sjogren’s syndrome. If you can’t taste or smell after a few days, talk to your doctor to rule out other conditions.

Cancer and Treatment

Cancer and Treatment

7/12

Certain kinds of cancer and treatment can change the messages between your nose, mouth, and brain. This includes tumors in your head or neck and radiation to those areas. Chemotherapy or targeted therapy and some medications for side effects can also have an effect. You may have a metallic taste in your mouth or find that certain odors are different or stronger. These issues often go away when your treatment ends.

Medication

Medication

8/12

Some prescription and over-the-counter medications can shift your senses, especially antibiotics and blood pressure medications. They either alter your taste receptors, scramble the messages from your taste buds to your brain, or change your saliva. Talk to your doctor before you stop taking any medication.

Vitamin Deficiencies

Vitamin Deficiencies

9/12

Loss of taste and smell could be your body’s way of telling you you’re low in vitamins. Certain conditions and medications can cause you to be low in vitamins associated with smell and taste, like A, B6, B12, and zinc. It can be a chicken-egg situation, too: If you eat less because you can’t smell or taste anything, your body may not get vitamins it needs.

Smoking, Drugs, and Chemicals

Smoking, Drugs, and Chemicals

10/12

Besides its ability to cause cancer, tobacco smoke can injure or kill the cells that help your brain classify smells and taste. Smoking can also cause your body to make more mucus and lessen your number of taste buds. Cocaine use can have a similar effect on your sensory cells. So can hazardous chemicals like chlorine, paint solvents, and formaldehyde.

Diagnosis

Diagnosis

11/12

After a physical exam, your doctor will check your ability to taste and smell separately. For the smell test, you’ll name a series of scents in small capsules or on scratch-and-sniff labels. A taste test involves strips that you identify as sweet, sour, bitter, salty, or umami, also called savory. Your doctor may look inside your nose with an endoscope (a camera on the end of a flexible tube) or order a CT scan for a better view of your sinuses, nose nerves, and brain.

Complications

Complications

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When you lose your senses of smell and taste, it affects your life in many ways. This condition is a safety risk since you can’t smell smoke, poison, or gas or taste spoiled food. Use fire alarms, check expiration dates on food, and switch to electric if you have natural gas. Always eat healthy food, even if you can’t taste it.

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University of Miami Health System: “Disorders of Smell and Taste.”

Medical University of South Carolina: “Smell & Taste Disorders.”

Richard Doty, PhD, professor and director, Smell and Taste Center, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.

Mayo Clinic: “Is loss of taste and smell normal with aging?” “Loss of Smell,” “Hay Fever,” “Deviated septum.”

UC San Diego Health: “Loss of Smell and Taste Validated as COVID-19 Symptoms.”

National Institute on Aging: “How Smell and Taste Change as You Age

Brainline: “Changes in Taste, Smell and Hormones After Brain Injury.”

Model Systems Knowledge Translation Center: “Loss of Smell or Taste After Traumatic Brain Injury.”

Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease: “Odor Identification Ability Predicts PET Amyloid Status and Memory Decline in Older Adults

AARP: “Poor Sense of Smell May Double Risk of Dementia.”

Columbia University Irving Medical Center: “Can A Smell Test Sniff Out Alzheimer’s Disease?”

Parkinson’s Foundation: “Loss of Smell.”

Breastcancer.org: “Taste and Smell Changes.”

American Cancer Society: “Taste and Smell Changes.”

Harvard Health Publishing: “Ask the doctor: Is my blood pressure medication changing my ability to taste?” “Vitamin B12 deficiency can be sneaky, harmful.”

American Family Physician: “Smell and Taste Disorders: A Primary Care Approach.”

Winchester Hospital: “Taste and Smell Disorders.”

National Library of Medicine: “Tobacco Influence on Taste and Smell: Systematic Review of the Literature.”

KidsHealth: “What Are Taste Buds?”

Brigham and Women’s Hospital: “Smell and Taste Disorders.”

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Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD, is a well-known doctor. He is famous for his studies of ageing, genetics and other medical conditions. He works at the Institute of Food Biotechnology and Genomics NAS of Ukraine. His scientific researches are printed by the most reputable international magazines. Some of his works are: Differences in the gut Firmicutes to Bacteroidetes ratio across age groups in healthy Ukrainian population [BiomedCentral.com]; Mating status affects Drosophila lifespan, metabolism and antioxidant system [Science Direct]; Anise Hyssop Agastache foeniculum Increases Lifespan, Stress Resistance, and Metabolism by Affecting Free Radical Processes in Drosophila [Frontiersin].
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