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The Sense of Taste: Why Would You Lose That Sense?

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With the holidays quickly approaching, many of us are looking forward to eating delicious food. But for some people, different conditions affect their sense of taste. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorder noted that each year, more than 200,000 people visit their doctor because they are having problems with their chemical senses, which includes the sense of taste.

In the mouth and throat are special cells called gustatory cells. They become stimulated when they come into contact with either food or beverages mixed with saliva. These gustatory cells transmit the information they gather to nerve fibers, which pass on the information to the brain.

The tongue detects sweet, umami, sour, bitter and salty. When someone experiences an impairment or a loss of taste, certain tastes are lost first. For example, MedlinePlus noted that sweet and salty tastes are often lost first, with sour and bitter lasting longer.

When someone has a reduced ability to detect these tastes, she has a taste condition called hypogeusia. If a person cannot detect any tastes, she has a condition called ageusia.

The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders pointed out that a true loss of the sense of taste is a rare condition. MedlinePlus added that many people who have a loss of the sense of taste really have a loss of the sense of smell.

So what causes a loss of the sense of taste? For some people, they may be born with a taste disorder. Aging can affect a person’s sense of smell. Disorders that affect the nasal passages, such as sinusitis, nasal infections and nasal polyps, can impair the senses. Certain illnesses and infections are causes, including common colds, flu, salivary gland infections, strep throat and pharyngitis.

Lifestyle choices can affect a person’s ability to taste, such as heavy smoking. A deficiency in specific minerals and vitamins, including vitamin B-12 and zinc, may affect taste.

Some medications may cause an impairment in taste. MedlinePlus listed lithium, rifampin, antithyroid drugs, procarbazine, griseofulvin, penicillamine, captopril and some anticancer drugs are medications that may affect. Before altering your medication, consult your doctor.

Other causes of a loss of a sense of taste include ear surgery, gingivitis, head injury, mouth dryness, radiation for cancer in the head and neck area, and exposure to chemicals like insecticides.

Some taste disorders can be treated; for untreatable taste disorders, counseling may help patients adjust to the change. If the loss of taste is temporary, such as with the flu, treatment of the underlying condition should return the patient’s taste to normal. MedlinePlus noted that lifestyle changes may correct the patient’s taste, such as quitting smoking or making dietary changes.


MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Taste – Impaired. Web. 23 November 2011.

National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Taste Disorders. Web. 23 November 2011.

American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery. Smell and Taste. Web. 23 November 2011.

Reviewed November 24, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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