What is impaired taste?
Impaired taste means that your sense of taste
is not functioning properly. Impaired taste can refer to the absence of taste.
It can also refer to an altered sense, such as a metallic taste in the mouth.
Most people only experience impaired taste
temporarily, and only lose part of their ability to taste. It’s very rare to
lose your sense of taste completely.
Causes of impaired taste range from the
common cold to more serious medical conditions involving the central nervous
system. Impaired taste can also be a sign of normal aging. It is estimated that
about 75 percent of people over the age of 80
have impaired taste.
Link between taste and smell
The senses of taste and smell are closely
linked. The flavors in food can be tasted because of a combination of your
ability to smell and taste.
In some cases, your taste buds may be
functioning just fine, but your sense of smell is the problem. Your doctor
might send you to an ear, nose, and throat specialist, called an otolaryngologist,
to determine if you have a smell disorder.
What causes impaired taste?
A wide variety of causes exist for impaired
taste. Many of the causes involve your respiratory system.
Even if you do not have a diagnosed smell
disorder, the temporary interruption of smell you experience during a cold or
other respiratory illness can impair your sense of taste. Many common
conditions can all affect your ability to taste, such as:
- the common cold
- sinus infections
- throat infections, such as strep
throat and pharyngitis
- salivary gland infections
Other causes of impaired taste include:
- gum inflammation, such as gingivitis or periodontal disease
- medication, including lithium, thyroid medications, and cancer
- Sjogren’s syndrome, an autoimmune disease that causes dry mouth
and dry eyes
- head or ear injuries
- nutritional deficiencies, especially vitamin B-12 and zinc
Disorders of the nervous system can also
cause an altered sense of taste. Nervous system disorders affect how your
nerves send messages to the rest of your body. The organs that control taste
may also be affected by nervous system impairment.
People diagnosed with certain disorders,
including multiple sclerosis and Bell’s palsy, may sometimes experience
Treating impaired taste
Treating the underlying condition that causes
your impaired sense of taste can help restore your taste. Bacterial sinusitis,
salivary glands, and throat infections can be treated with antibiotics.
Symptoms of colds, flu, and allergic rhinitis
that impact taste may be relieved with decongestants or antihistamines. Once
you are feeling better, your sense of taste will most likely return quickly.
Your doctor may prescribe medications to
minimize the effects of a nervous system disorder or an autoimmune disease that
causes impaired taste.
There is also evidence that zinc deficiency can cause
Lifestyle changes to improve taste
Most often, lifestyle changes are all you
need to improve your sense of taste. If you are a smoker, quitting smoking can
allow you to taste your food fully. Ex-smokers begin to regain their sense of
taste as quickly as two days after they have kicked the habit.
Proper dental hygiene can also reverse an
impaired sense of taste. Gingivitis is the beginning of gum disease, which occurs
when plaque remains on your gum line.
Through brushing and flossing, you can
eliminate plaque from your mouth, protect your teeth from disease and decay,
and help regain your full sense of taste.