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Did you know our sense of taste for sweetness and savory begins at birth? Throughout our life, we depend on the five taste senses of sweet, sour, bitter, salty and savory to react to our environment and detect any health issues.
After the age of 50, we may begin losing our taste buds slowly, but experiencing a loss of taste is usually temporary and should alert us to a possible underlying condition.
Let’s look at why our taste buds are so important to our lives and how impaired taste can lead to a decline in our health.
How Taste Works
Our sense of taste is received through the brain’s perception of three specialized taste nerves. These messages are sent by our taste sensory cells located in taste buds in our tongue, throat lining, and on the roof of our mouth. Any interruption, such as a blockage, impairs our tasting abilities. A complete loss of taste is known as ageusia while a form of impaired taste is referred to dysguesia. Loss of taste in elderly is common but it can affect any age group.
Our sense of taste works hand in hand with our sense of smell, especially when it comes to the flavors in our food. We embrace flavors with our response to texture, spiciness, temperature, and aroma. To understand this, the next time you have a chocolate, pinch your nose while you eat. You may recognize the taste of sweetness or bitterness, but what you won’t recognize is the chocolate itself as you will not be able to smell the aroma. This is why in some situations it is the sense of smell that is at cause rather than a loss of taste.
What Causes Loss of Taste or Impaired Taste?
A partial or complete loss of taste can be troublesome as we depend on our taste buds to warn us of potential food dangers and control our eating habits. It can be a symptom of serious health matters such as respiratory infections or conditions of the sinuses, tongue, mouth, and even the central nervous system. If our body lacks nutrients, it can cause damage to nerves and those directly connected to our tongue will lose sense of taste.
Health conditions and environments that can affect our taste sensation include:
- Natural aging
- Common cold or flu
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD
- Ear problems
- Radiation therapy
- Tobacco use
- Dental problems
- Mouth dryness
- Bell’s palsy, Sjogren’s syndrome, glossitis
- Deficiency of vitamin B12 and zinc
- Chemical exposure
Loss of taste can also signal a life-threatening health issue that requires immediate medical attention. It could be a symptom of a brain tumor, oral cancer, serious head injury, or even a stroke. Impaired taste can be an early warning sign of transient ischemic attack.
Symptoms That Occur with Loss of Taste
A temporary loss of taste can be accompanied by other symptoms, depending on the cause. One of the most common is tasting flavor when nothing is present, known as phantom taste perception. You may also have a reduced taste of a flavor, or hypogeusia.
Sinus infection or nasal conditions may present face swelling, pressure or pain, especially around the eyes, nose and forehead regions. Other symptoms may be fever, sore throat, nasal congestion, and postnasal drip.
Symptoms affecting the digestive system may include bloating, indigestion, heartburn, abdominal pain or even coughing.
Signs of a nutrient deficiency are fatigue, diarrhea, brittle nails, loss of appetite or hair, a rash, or changes in your tongue.
Issues with the salivary glands are signaled by dry mouth, face or mouth pain, sore throat, fever, redness or swelling of face and neck, or inability to open your mouth.
There are times when immediate medical attention is required with a loss of taste. Seek help if you experience numbness or weakness on one side of the body, any change in vision or speech, or if you have a fever higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit.
How to Treat an Impaired Taste Problem
Left untreated, a loss of taste can lead to a variety of serious health conditions that can be mild to life-threatening. An impaired taste issue can result in malnutrition, dehydration, paralysis, and the spread of infections and diseases such as cancer.
Depending on the cause, loss of taste treatment may require a visit to a medical professional. Your doctor will prescribe antibiotics for issues stemming from infections in your salivary glands, throat, and sinus cavity. If you are suffering from the cold, allergies, or flu, antihistamines or decongestants may be used.
A problem with your central nervous system or an autoimmune disease will call for specific medication to restore your loss of taste. You may just need a supplement to restore a deficiency in nutrients.
If your impaired taste is not related to a more serious condition, you can help repair your taste sensation with home remedies. We have listed a few powerful substances that may awaken your sense of taste.
- Ginger can stimulate your taste buds as you chew on raw pieces or drink ginger tea.
- Cayenne pepper may help clear any sinus blockage that is causing your impairment of taste.
- Lemons are great for the senses and your taste buds could perk up with a slice of the zesty fruit.
- Apple cider vinegar works to stimulate taste buds with its acidic and sour taste. Drink a mixture of one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar and 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda in half a glass of water twice a day.
- Cinnamon is a powerful motivator for taste buds. With equal parts of cinnamon and honey, mix together and apply the paste-like substance on your tongue. Rinse with warm water after 10 minutes.
We depend on our sense of taste to guide us through our daily activities of eating and drinking, as well as specific environmental changes. Experiencing a loss of taste, or impaired taste, can be the body’s first response to a developing or existing health condition. There are home remedies and prescribed medications that can help the taste nerves receive signals from your taste buds.
Ignoring this temporary condition may invite complications that could be life-threatening. If you notice your foods and drinks lacking taste, take the time to investigate.
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Problems with the sense of taste can have a big impact on life. Taste stimulates the desire to eat and therefore plays a key role in nutrition. The sense of taste also helps keep us healthy by helping us detect spoiled food or drinks.
Scientists have established that there are five distinct flavors that contribute to our sense of taste: sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and savory.
These flavors, plus the sensations of heat, coolness, and texture combine inside the mouth to give us a sense of taste. The sense of smell also adds to the perception of taste. In fact, the senses of taste and smell are so closely related that most people who go to the doctor thinking they have lost their sense of taste are surprised to discover that they have lost their sense of smell.
Losing your sense of taste can even affect your health. Here’s how: When taste is impaired, you might change your eating habits by adding too much sugar or salt to your food to try to make it taste better. You may also eat too much or too little.
Some people are born with taste disorders, but most develop them after an injury or illness. Among the causes of taste problems are:
- Upper respiratory and middle ear infections
- Radiation therapy for cancers of the head and neck
- Exposure to chemicals such as insecticides, and some medications, including antibiotics and antihistamines
- Head injury
- Surgery to the ear, nose, and throat (such as middle ear surgery) or extraction of the third molar (wisdom tooth)
- Poor oral hygiene and dental problems.
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Taste disorders include:
- Dysgeusia [dis-GYOO-zee-a], a condition in which a foul, salty, rancid, or metallic taste persists in your mouth. Dysgeusia is sometimes accompanied by Burning Mouth Syndrome, which is characterized by a painful burning sensation in your mouth.
- Hypogeusia [hy-po-GYOO-zee-a], in which your ability to taste is reduced.
- Ageusia [ah-GYOO-zee-a], in which you’re unable to taste anything.
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Taste disorders are diagnosed by an otolaryngologist (sometimes called an ENT – ear, nose, and throat – doctor). An otolaryngologist determines how severe your taste disorder is by using a special taste test that measures the lowest concentration of a taste quality you can detect and recognize. You may be asked to sip a substance, spit it out and then describe the taste. Another type of taste test uses chemicals applied directly to the tongue. You also may be asked to compare the tastes of different substances, or discern the differences between different concentrations of taste qualities. Your doctor will also examine your ears, nose, and throat, and ask about your medical history and oral hygiene habits.
Treatment will depend upon what is causing your taste disorder. If a medication is the cause, your doctor will ask you to stop taking the medication or change to a comparable one that does not affect your sense of taste as much.
If a medical condition is the cause, your doctor will treat the condition or refer you to another doctor who can. Often, treating the medical problem will eliminate the taste disorder. For example, if you’ve lost your sense of taste because of respiratory infections or allergies, you should regain your taste when those conditions resolve.
Some people with a taste disorder will get their taste back spontaneously, without any treatment.
If you lose some or all of your sense of taste, here are things you can try to make your food taste better:
- Prepare foods with a variety of colors and textures.
- Use aromatic herbs and spices to add more flavor.
- Work with your doctor or with a nutritionist to identify condiments that you can add to your diet to improve the taste of your food.
- Avoid dishes that combine different foods, such as casseroles, which can hide individual flavors and dilute taste.
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A fact sheet from the NIH National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. It answers questions such as What causes taste disorders? How are taste disorders diagnosed? and Can taste disorders be treated?
The NIH National Library of Medicine’s collection of links to government, professional and non-profit/voluntary organizations with information on taste and smell disorders.
This article was medically reviewed by Daniel Wozniczka, MD, MPH. Dr. Wozniczka is an Internal Medicine Physician in Chicago, with global healthcare experience in Sub Saharan Africa, Eastern Europe, and Southeast Asia. He completed his MD at Jagiellonian University in 2014, and also holds an MBA and Masters in Public Health from the University of Illinois at Chicago.
There are 7 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.
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Synesthesia is a rare blending of the senses (sight, hearing, taste) in which the stimulation of one sense triggers a predictable and reproducible effect in another sense.  X Research source For example, someone with synesthesia may be able to hear colors, feel sounds, or taste shapes. At times this feeling is only subjective. Most people with synesthesia are born with the condition, so they don’t know anything different. However, once they tell people how they experience the world, they might be told they’re hallucinating or going crazy. Being diagnosed with synesthesia is often a relief in these situations. Be aware that there is no medical consensus on whether or not this condition exists, and some doctors may not recognize synesthesia as a legitimate condition.
Taste impairment means there is a problem with your sense of taste. Problems range from distorted taste to a complete loss of the sense of taste. A complete inability to taste is rare.
The tongue can detect sweet, salty, sour, savory and bitter tastes. Much of what is perceived as “taste” is actually smell. People who have taste problems often have a smell disorder that can make it hard to identify a food’s flavor. (Flavor is a combination of taste and smell.)
Taste problems can be caused by anything that interrupts the transfer of taste sensations to the brain. It can also be caused by conditions that affect the way the brain interprets these sensations.
The sensation of taste often decreases after age 60. Most often, salty and sweet tastes are lost first. Bitter and sour tastes last slightly longer.
Causes of impaired taste include:
- Bell’s palsy
- Common cold
- Flu and other viral infections
- Nasal infection, nasal polyps, sinusitis
- Pharyngitis and strep throat
- Salivary gland infections
- Head trauma
Other causes are:
- Ear surgery or injury
- Sinus or anterior skull base surgery
- Heavy smoking (especially pipe or cigar smoking)
- Injury to the mouth, nose, or head
- Mouth dryness
- Medicines, such as thyroid drugs, captopril, griseofulvin, lithium, penicillamine, procarbazine, rifampin, clarithromycin, and some drugs used to treat cancer
- Swollen or inflamed gums (gingivitis)
- Vitamin B12 or zinc deficiency
Follow your health care provider’s instructions. This may include changes to your diet. For taste problems due to the common cold or flu, normal taste should return when the illness passes. If you smoke, stop smoking.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your provider if your taste problems do not go away, or if abnormal tastes occur with other symptoms.
What to Expect at Your Office Visit
The provider will perform a physical exam and ask questions, including:
- Do all foods and drinks taste the same?
- Do you smoke?
- Does this change in taste affect the ability to eat normally?
- Have you noticed any problems with your sense of smell?
- Have you recently changed toothpaste or mouthwash?
- How long has the taste problem lasted?
- Have you been sick or injured recently?
- What medicines do you take?
- What other symptoms do you have? (For example, appetite loss or breathing problems?)
- When is the last time you went to the dentist?
If the taste problem is due to allergies or sinusitis, you may get medicine to relieve a stuffy nose. If a medicine you are taking is to blame, you may need to change your dose or switch to a different drug.
A CT scan or MRI scan may be done to look at the sinuses or the part of the brain that controls the sense of smell.
Loss of taste; Metallic taste; Dysgeusia
Baloh RW, Jen JC. Smell and taste. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 427.
Doty RL, Bromley SM. Disturbances of smell and taste. In: Daroff RB, Jankovic J, Mazziotta JC, Pomeroy SL, eds. Bradley’s Neurology in Clinical Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 19.
Travers JB, Travers SP, Christian JM. Physiology of the oral cavity. In: Flint PW, Haughey BH, Lund V, et al, eds. Cummings Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 88.
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- What Causes Taste Loss and How to Help?
Taste loss can be very distressing, which may implicate some health issues in the long term. Identify the cause to ensure that the proper treatment can be given.
Losing sense of taste has a negative effect on health as well as the overall quality of life. Almost 15% adults have a problem with taste or smell but do not approach a doctor for it. Over 200,000 people take medical help every year for inability to taste or smell.
However, you may wonder why that will happen to you, how can you get back to normal, and what things can you do to deal with it.
Symptoms That Occur with Loss of Taste
You may experience many other symptoms with a temporary loss of taste. Some people have a reduced taste of flavor (hypogeusia), while others may taste flavor when there is nothing present (phantom taste perception). Here are some other common symptoms associated with a temporary loss of taste:
- You may develop sinus infection or have nasal conditions that lead to facial swelling or pain, especially around the nose, eyes, and forehead. You may also have symptoms like sore throat, fever, postnasal drip, and nasal congestion.
- You may experience digestive problems, such as indigestion, bloating, abdominal pain, and heartburn.
- You may not be eating enough due to a loss of taste and this can lead to a nutrient deficiency. You may develop problems like diarrhea, fatigue, brittle nails, changes in tongue, and loss of appetite.
- You may develop issues with the salivary glands and experience problems such as facial pain, dry mouth, fever, sore throat, inability to open your mouth, and redness of neck and face.
Be sure to seek immediate medical help if you have any of these abovementioned symptoms along with weakness or numbness on one side of your body or you have a very high fever. You should also talk to your doctor if you notice any change in speech or vision.
What Causes Loss of Taste?
Loss of sense of taste can be temporary or permanent depending on the cause. It is gradual but not as noticeable as loss in sense of smell. There are many reasons of lost taste. Medications and illness can make it worse. If the transfer of taste sensations to the brain is interrupted, or if the interpretation of sensation of taste by the brain is hampered, loss of taste occurs.
Some of the common causes may include:
Medications like antibiotics or antihistamines cause a bad taste in mouth or impaired taste. Bitter or salty taste in the mouth for extended periods is called dysgeusia and usually affects older people. This happens due to medications and oral health problems.
2. Radiation of Head and Neck Cancers
Individuals who receive radiation around the nose and mouth region suffer from loss in sense of taste and smell due to side effects. Old people who lose larynx or voice box also suffer from inability to smell or taste anything.
3. Certain Chemicals
When people are exposed to some insecticides or solvents, they can experience loss of taste. Getting medical help in such conditions is essential.
Tobacco is the most common form of chemical exposure pollution. It is also reported that when smokers quit smoking, they tend to have a better sense of taste.
5. Certain Operations and Injury
Ear, throat and tooth surgeries can cause taste loss, especially wisdom tooth extraction or middle ear surgery. Sometimes, head injuries can also cause impaired taste. Damage to the taste nerves by being cut or blocked or as a result of physical damage during a head injury can lead to loss of taste.
6. Certain Infections
Ear infection and infection of the tongue can also bring about taste loss. Respiratory or middle ear infections like flu can cause impaired taste or taste disorders. Infections caused by fungus, like oral thrush, yeast-candidiasis and glossitis can also be the culprit.
7. Aging or Inability to Smell
There is slow degeneration of the nerves which control the sensation of taste and smell with increasing age. This causes reduced sense of taste in older people. Congenital anosmia is a condition where people are born with an inability to smell and this can cause impaired taste in the future.
Can Loss of Taste Be Treated?
Doctor’s advice should be taken for all the possible treatment options available and the ones which are most suited to the condition depending on the cause. When the underlying cause is treated or gets resolved, the sense of taste returns to normalcy.
- Depending on what causes the problem, you doctor will prescribe medication and determine the best treatment option. They may prescribe antibiotics if your impaired taste problem is due to any infections in your throat, salivary glands, or sinus cavity. They may prescribe decongestants or antihistamines if you are suffering from the cold, flu, or allergies. Any nutritional deficiency usually requires a treatment with supplements.
- If the problem is due to intake of certain medication, stopping or changing the medicine also resolves the problem. However, medicines should be discontinued only after confirmation from doctor.
- Oral hygiene is very important for having a good sense of taste.
It is also possible to try some home remedies for good results, especially when you know your impaired taste is not the result of any serious medical condition. For instance:
- Chew on a piece of ginger to stimulate saliva and taste buds. Ginger tea may also help.
- Try cayenne pepper to help treat sinus blockage.
- Enjoy lemons to help stimulate your taste buds.
- Add a ¼ tsp. of baking soda and 1 tbsp. of apple cider vinegar to half a glass of water and drink twice a day to stimulate taste buds.
- Make a paste by mixing equal parts of honey and cinnamon and apply it to your tongue. Let it sit there for 10 minutes and then rinse with warm water to improve your sense of taste.
If the sense of taste cannot be restored, you may require a medical visit. Changes can be made in the diet to make it more appetizing and taste better.
While fever, cough and shortness of breath have characterized the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its list of common symptoms in late April to include a new loss of smell or taste.
According to Justin Turner, MD, PhD, associate professor of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery and medical director of Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Smell and Taste Center, it’s not uncommon for patients with viral upper respiratory infections to experience a temporary — or sometimes permanent — loss of taste or smell. These symptoms appear to be particularly prevalent in COVID-19.
Since COVID-19 is a new disease, little is known about the long-term outcomes of patients with these symptoms, but ongoing studies have provided insight into when these symptoms arise and who experiences them.
Q: How common is smell and taste loss in COVID-19?
Up to 80% of people who test positive for COVID-19 have subjective complaints of smell or taste loss. That percentage rises when these patients are tested using objective methods that measure smell function. Most patients first notice problems with their sense of smell, but because smell is necessary to taste flavor, the symptoms are often connected.
Q: What is known about the COVID-19 cases where these symptoms occur?
A recent study based on retrospective data showed that patients who had normal smell function in COVID-19 appeared to have a worse disease course and were more likely to be hospitalized and placed on a ventilator. This suggests patients who experience smell dysfunction may have a milder infection or disease. The data we have so far also suggest that in a substantial percentage of the COVID-19-infected population, smell loss can be one of the first — or only — signs of disease. It may precede symptoms that are more commonly associated with COVID-19, such as cough and fever. It has even been proposed that smell and taste loss could be a screening tool since these symptoms appear so early.
Q: How can a virus cause smell and taste loss?
One possibility is that people with upper respiratory infections often have congestion, drainage and other nasal symptoms that can block odor’s ability to reach the smell nerve, which sits at the top of the nasal cavity. But, we believe the primary cause, particularly for people with extended or permanent loss of smell function, is that the virus causes an inflammatory reaction inside the nose that can lead to a loss of the olfactory, or smell, neurons.
In some cases, this is permanent, but in other cases, the neurons can regenerate. That’s likely what determines which patients recover. In COVID-19, we believe smell loss is so prevalent because the receptors for COVID-19 that are expressed in human tissue are most commonly expressed in the nasal cavity and in the supporting cells of the olfactory tissue. These supporting cells surround the smell neurons and allow them to survive.
Q: Should people with smell and taste loss in the absence of other symptoms be concerned about COVID-19?
While smell and taste loss can be caused by other conditions, it warrants a conversation with your physician to determine whether you should be tested for COVID-19. We know smell loss is one of the first — and sometimes only — symptoms in up to 25% of people diagnosed with COVID-19. It could be unrelated, but it’s important to seek care, especially if these symptoms are prolonged.
The Vanderbilt Smell and Taste Center can objectively test, evaluate and treat patients, whatever the cause, and can offer interventions that can potentially recover loss that could otherwise be permanent.
Q: What questions about these COVID-19 symptoms still need answering?
We plan to watch the recovery rate for these patients. We encourage people who have prolonged smell and taste dysfunction to be evaluated to help us understand if and when these symptoms resolve. There is also concern that COVID-19 and its ability to enter the olfactory tissue could be a conduit for infection in the brain. I think we’ll learn more about that as we follow these patients over time.
Here’s help maintaining a healthy diet even when your sense of taste or smell is altered.
Perhaps one of the most common but least talked about symptoms of illness is the loss of taste and smell. It happens across the spectrum of diseases and can be either short-lived or long-lasting. It’s a common long-term side effect of certain cancer treatments, but also happens in the short term for people with bad colds or the flu. And of course, it is now known to be one of the many symptoms associated with COVID-19.
While the loss of taste or smell is usually a symptom of underlying disease and doesn’t have immediate health consequences on its own, it can make it difficult for people to eat a healthy and adequate diet. Not being able to enjoy food really dulls the incentive to eat well! The good news? There are things you can do to make sure you’re getting the nutrients you need, even if you can’t taste food the way you usually do.
Causes for losing your sense of taste and/or smell.
“Our ability to smell comes from the functions of a specific cranial nerve, and taste involves the functions of many nerves including specific cranial nerves,” says Caroline West Passerrello, M.S., RDN, LDN, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Taste and smell can be impacted individually or simultaneously, and the severity can range from a mild impairment to a complete loss.”
Both senses naturally decline as we age, although the rate at which that happens varies from person to person. Smoking also dulls our sense of taste and smell, and chronic smoking can lead to a significant decline in both over time.
But there are other more specific, immediate causes of impaired olfaction (smell) and gustation (taste). “Inflammation of the nasal mucosa and sinuses, which can happen when your body defends itself against viruses like the common cold or coronavirus, is associated with impaired olfaction,” Passerrello says. “Tumors, head trauma and certain medications can also impair our ability to taste and smell,” she says. This can happen with many medications, but is particularly severe and common in chemotherapy and radiation for cancer treatment.
Loss of taste and smell is associated with poorer diet quality overall.
“From limited studies with aging adults who report a loss of smell, we know they are less likely to conform to dietary guidelines and [more likely to have] poor dietary quality when compared to the guidelines standards,” Passerrello says.
Why this happens isn’t totally clear, but it’s likely because food just isn’t as enjoyable when you can’t taste or smell it. The subtle bitterness of vegetables might come across more strongly to someone with an impaired sense of taste or smell, while pleasant sweet or salty flavors might be harder to detect. Many older adults also show a preference for very sweet or very salty foods because of dulled tastes, which can lead to an unhealthy diet overall. The same thing likely happens when someone has an impaired sense of taste or smell in the short term.
Tips for maintaining a balanced diet
“Eating with an impaired sense of taste or smell may not be as enjoyable, since taste is still the number one reason most Americans choose to eat the foods they do,” Passerrello says. “So, try to set up a meal plan—and environment—that is enjoyable and balanced.” She recommends following MyPlate guidelines by filling half of your plate with vegetables or fruits, one quarter with protein and one quarter with starch (preferably whole grains, starchy vegetables, beans or legumes).
Passerrello also warns against adding too much salt or sugar. “Be mindful of the amount of salt or sugar being added to foods—and in this case, do not ‘salt to taste’ because that may put you well over the daily recommendation for sodium intake.” Unfortunately, this may mean that food tastes a little bit bland in the short term.
Instead, try using acids like lemon juice or vinegar to season foods. Acid is a very strong flavor that comes through even when taste or smell is impaired, and it doesn’t add any sodium, sugar or calories. Going heavy on the spices can also be helpful. Black pepper, chile pepper (if you like spicy foods), cinnamon, cumin, garlic powder and ginger can all add strong flavors that might come through even with a diminished sense of taste or smell.
Know that taste and smell changes often go away in time.
If you’ve recently recovered from a cold, flu or another virus, you might be frustrated to find that your sense of taste and smell is still a little off days or weeks later. In these circumstances, it’s likely that your senses will soon return to normal.
If you’re experiencing taste changes due to aging, smoking, ongoing cancer treatments or medication used to treat a chronic condition, it may be the case that you’ll be dealing with those taste changes long term. Experiment to figure out what foods taste good, and build your meal plans accordingly. Be careful not to add too much salt to foods, as getting too much sodium can have negative health effects. And while it’s natural to gravitate toward sweet flavors in these circumstances, try to opt for naturally sweet foods whenever possible as opposed to always reaching for desserts or treats with lots of added sugar.
TIMESOFINDIA.COM | Last updated on – Nov 12, 2020, 10:55 IST
01 /8 COVID-19 can make you lose out on your sense of smell
Loss of smell is one of the most unexplainable, and probably the weirdest symptoms people are experiencing with COVID-19.
Anosmia, as it is medically referred to, has become an indicator of how difficult novel coronavirus can be. For some, it can strike before a fever, or be the only symptom of COVID. It can also be one of the symptoms of the infection which takes a long time to recover- a good six to seven weeks post diagnosis at times.
02 /8 It can take a while to regain your sense of smell and taste
Those who suffer from a loss of smell or taste suggest that it feels like a sudden impairment of the senses- not being able to smell or taste the same things as you usually would.
It can also make the brain undergo some sort of ‘rewiring’ to learn how to re-recognize things. What also makes anosmia, as a symptom, trickier is that it doesn’t have any typical medication which could relive or reverse symptoms. It is also quite irritating to not be able to do a vital function. The longer it lasts, more of a psychological problem it manifests into.
Then, how can a person recover from a loss of smell or taste? Can it be possible to ‘retrain’ your body? Let us explain.
03 /8 How common is loss of smell and taste?
Loss of sensation of smell refers to the condition when a person is unable to detect odours. Usually, people who suffer from cold or a blocked nose suffer from a mild form of hyposmia but the sense of smell recovers on its own, as the nasal passages get cleared up. In some cases, the impairment can be caused by age, in many cases, the infection can be resultant of chronic sinus, hormonal imbalances or allergies. Unlike other definitive symptoms, anosmia starts off very mildly and may even permanently ‘change’ the way certain scents smell or taste for people.
Temporary loss of smell/taste can also be experienced in cases of flu or smoking. Strangely enough, even though COVID has a lot of symptoms in common with other viral infections, loss of smell and taste is the first of a kind symptom seen with a virus like this.
04 /8 Loss of smell and taste can be a tricky COVID symptom
From spicy sauces which taste like milk, drinks which smell like petroleum and foods which feel like cardboard, COVID patients describe their changed senses in a variety of ways. People have also reported going without smelling things for 3-4 days at a stretch.
A study published in Chemical Senses, in the month of June found that nearly 8% of 4,000 odd COVID patients suffered from a distorted sense of smell or taste, or both at the same time.
Whether or not a loss of smell or taste is associated with mild or severe forms of disease outcome is yet to be determined. Asymptomatic patients can also suffer from a loss of smell or taste.
Scientists are now basing tests which help pick up on an altered sense of smell to diagnose a COVID infection quicker, since it may precede other COVID symptoms.
05 /8 Why does COVID-19 impair your senses?
According to experts, one of the reasons why COVID-19 could lead to a diminished or reduced sense of smell is when the viral load replicates or multiplies in the upper respiratory tract, around the nose where the olfactory senses lie. Congestion, nasal function decline and drainage can also ‘block’ an odour’s ability to reach the senses.
Strangely, there’s another reason many believe that anosmia can be mild, but a positive sign of recovery. As olfactory senses recover and regenerate from a viral bout, they misinterpret certain connections and make you experience an altered sense of smell and taste. As they regrow, it takes a while before you get your normal sense of smell back.
06 /8 When can anosmia become a sign of worry?
For some, a diminished or a loss of smell can be so overpowering, it can make the act of eating food intolerable, laboured and ultimately, make them have less food. It could probably be a reason why some people also go on to witness a loss of appetite during their infection. For some, even a simple thing like drinking water can turn into an unpleasant experience.
07 /8 How long does it last for?
Impaired paranoia or anosmia can affect people in a variety of ways. While most get back their ability to smell or taste in a month or two, for a small percentage, it can also span over months.
For some, the change in taste and smell can also be triggered in the recovery period, when the body is rooting away the viral load and neurons and connections are being regenerated in the body’s respiratory tract.
08 /8 Recovering from anosmia
COVID-19 patients recover their loss of smell and taste soon after regaining their sense of smell. For those who experience the symptom for a long while, a non-pharmaceutical therapy, such as smell training can be incorporated. This is particularly helpful for those who have a clouded smell or find it difficult to eat or drink foods on a regular basis.
With ‘smell training’, patients are asked to sniff on certain foods, scents and oils, such as eucalyptus oil, oranges, lemons or other highly scented products twice a day, for 30 seconds each time over a course of a few weeks. What it essentially does it ‘rewire’ the brain to accurately recognize tastes and smell.
Certain essential oils and natural fragrances also have the potent ability to empower the olfactory senses to work more efficiently and correct any imbalances. Rose, citronella, cinnamon and eucalyptus are widely used to treat people with sinusitis and other similar conditions. They are easy to try and have been found to be super effective.
For those who still find consuming regular foods problematic, sneaking in nutrition through options like smoothies and juices can be a good option to consider. This is particularly important because having a healthy, nutritious diet aids COVID-19 recovery and strengthens immunity.