Lately, we’ve heard a lot in the news about losing your sense of taste. That’s because dysgeusia—the medical condition where you can’t taste, or you can’t taste properly—is a key symptom of COVID-19 infection.
But COVID-19 isn’t the only medical condition that might cause your sense of taste to disappear. Bruce Stewart, MD, an otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat specialist) at Banner Health in Tucson, AZ, shared more insights with us about this condition.
What happens when you lose your sense of taste?
When you eat or drink something, your taste buds pick up the chemical information in it and they send information to your brain. Any problems along this pathway can cause problems with your sense of taste. Your taste buds and your nerves have to be functioning properly, and your mouth and tongue need to be moist to transfer the taste chemicals to the taste buds.
Some common causes of dysgeusia are:
- Medications that dry out your mouth or change your nerve function
- Diseases and conditions such as diabetes and low thyroid levels, which alter nerve function
- Throat or tongue infections that coat the taste buds
- Viral infections, including COVID-19 and the common cold
- Head injury
Symptoms of dysgeusia can affect your taste in different ways. It can lower or eliminate your ability to taste in the five taste categories: sweet, sour, salty, bitter and savory. It can alter the way you taste, so sweet foods might taste bitter, for example. It can create phantom tastes, where you perceive a taste that isn’t there.
The senses of smell and taste are closely linked, and most of the time when people complain about losing their taste the problem lies with their sense of smell. “We have all experienced this when we get a bad cold and foods don’t taste right,” Dr. Stewart said. “Aroma is a very important component of ‘taste.’” He points to brewing coffee and frying onions and bacon as good examples of how aroma and taste are intermingled.
Can you prevent dysgeusia?
You can take some steps to protect your sense of taste:
- Control systemic diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure, which can keep them from affecting your sense of taste and can also help you avoid medications that can alter your sense of taste.
- Avoid tobacco use, since it can impair your senses of taste and ability to smell.
- Practice good dental hygiene, which can reduce inflammation and the growth of organisms which may cause a bad taste in your mouth.
- Stay well hydrated to keep your mouth moist.
How can dysgeusia be treated?
Treating loss of taste means treating the underlying condition that’s causing it. That could mean getting your dry mouth or infection under control or changing your medication. Vitamins and zinc may also help in a small number of people, Dr. Stewart said.
Dysgeusia may be a sign of an underlying, potentially serious medical problem, so if it doesn’t clear up on its own in four to six weeks, you should get it checked by your doctor.
The bottom line
If you lose your sense of taste, you’ll need to figure out the underlying problem that’s causing the loss. Then, you can treat it and regain your enjoyment of food.
To find a Banner Health otolaryngologist who can help treat your taste disorders, visit bannerhealth.com.