Dr. MJ Bazos MD, Patient Handout
Sensory Dysfunction:
Problems With Smell or Taste
Why are smell and taste important?
The senses of smell and taste let you fully enjoy the scents and flavors of foods and drinks. These senses also protect you from food poisoning and warn you of dangers like fire, polluted air and poisonous chemicals.
Is there a difference between taste and flavor?
Yes. The basic tastes are salty, sweet, bitter and sour. “Flavor” involves taste and smell. For example, because a person is able to smell a chocolate bar while eating it, the chocolate not only tastes sweet but also has the flavor of “chocolate.” The flavor of chocolate candy might not be as good if you couldn’t smell it too.
What can happen if I have trouble with my sense of smell or taste?
If you can’t smell or taste your food, you might eat too much and gain weight, or you might eat too little and lose weight. You might use too much sugar and salt to try to make your food taste better. This can be a problem if you have diabetes or high blood pressure.
What can cause problems with my ability to smell or taste?
Nose or sinus problems might make you lose your sense of smell for a little while, or even for a long time. Your sinuses might be swollen or polyps (tiny growths) might block your nose passages.
Infections (like colds or the flu) or a head injury might make you lose your ability to smell. Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s disease can also make people lose their sense of smell.
Infection or inflammation in your mouth can cause loss of taste. (Inflammation means redness and swelling.) Head injury and Bell’s palsy (an inflammation of the nerves in the face) can also affect the ability to taste.
Some medicines (like antibiotics and blood pressure pills) can affect your ability to smell and taste. Cigarette smoking, certain chemicals and a lack of vitamins or minerals (like vitamin B12 and zinc) can also cause problems with taste and smell.
What can I do about this problem?
Talk to your family doctor. If a medicine is causing the problem, your doctor might have you stop taking the medicine or take a different medicine. Then you might be able to taste and smell again. But don’t stop taking a medicine unless your doctor tells you to.
If you have an infection or an allergy, treatment might help. Your doctor can tell you if treatment is right for you.
A few people lose the ability to smell or taste forever. But it’s still possible to improve the appeal of food. Your doctor can give you tips for fixing food in ways that will increase your enjoyment of it.