What Causes a Loss of Taste And How to Regain It?
The term anosmia refers to a medical condition in which someone experiences the partial or complete loss of smell. In many cases, the loss of smell is directly related to someone’s loss of taste.[*]
Some scientists and researchers think that our sense of taste and smell are directly linked to the most primitive parts of the brain and may have played an essential part in the natural selection of our species.[*]
In most cases, the loss of taste is directly related to the loss of smell (anosmia). Rarely, does someone actually “lose” their sense of taste.[*] Typically, swelling and excessive mucus build-up in the sinuses blocks the nerve endings deep within the nose that are responsible for sensing smells. Because the sense of smell and taste are so closely related, sufferers often report a loss of taste.
Each year, more than 200,000 people receive medical help related to issues with their sense of taste and smell. And it’s believed that up to 15% of the population may experience difficulty with their sense of taste and smell but that many cases go unreported.[*]
Loss of taste and smell is a common symptom of COVID-19 with a majority of patients reporting problems.[*][*] However, scientists and researchers are still trying to understand the reasons and the lasting implications.
There are several possible reasons why someone might lose their sense of taste and smell, but in most cases, most people get their taste and smell back after the underlying causes are remedied. However, if symptoms persist or if you suspect your loss of sense of taste and smell is related to a more serious condition, such as COVID-19, contact a health professional or a physician as soon as possible.
If you’ve lost your sense of taste and smell, a health professional might start by asking questions about your symptoms (i.e. when they started, how long you’ve had them, how severe they are, etc…). Be sure to record your symptoms and any changes in your condition so you can provide them to your physician.
It’s also likely your doctor will want to perform a physical examination of your ears, nose, and throat to look for inflammation, damage, or to rule out external factors. If a viral infection, such as influenza or SARS-CoV-2, is suspected, your physician will want to run tests to determine the underlying cause.
Quite often, a family doctor or healthcare professional will refer a person suffering from a loss of taste and smell to an ear, nose, and throat specialist, known as an otolaryngologist (also called an ENT) for further diagnosis and treatment. An ENT may perform tests, such as a “scratch and sniff” and a “sip, spit, and rinse” test to determine the extent of the problem. They may also perform an examination of your oral health and dental hygiene as a possible cause. In some cases, they may order a CT scan to get a more in-depth look at the issue.[*]
Nowadays, one of the most commonly reported symptoms of COVID-19 is the loss of a sense of taste and smell.
Although researchers are still studying exactly why and how it happens, it’s believed that the virus temporarily disrupts the olfactory receptors in the nasal lining, causing a loss of taste and smell.
Upper Respiratory Infection
Another common cause for losing your sense of smell and/or taste is the onset of an upper respiratory tract infection (URI), which can cause inflammation and a build-up of excess mucus throughout your nose, throat, pharynx, larynx, and bronchi.
URIs can be triggered by a number of factors, including the common cold, influenza, or some other form of bacterial or viral infection.[*]
In most cases, treating the underlying cause should also remedy your sense of smell and taste.
However, there are several other reasons that could be responsible for the loss of your sense of smell and taste, and it may be necessary to seek a diagnosis from a medical professional if the problem is more serious or persists.
Allergies (Hay Fever), Sinusitis (Sinus Infection)
Similar to upper respiratory infections, both allergy related nasal congestion and sinus infections can trigger the loss of your sense of taste and smell due to increased inflammation and mucus in the nasal cavities.
There are several potential underlying causes for a sinus infection, including the common cold, seasonal allergies, nasal polyps, and a deviated septum.
In most cases, the loss of your sense of smell and tastes should return as the underlying causes are treated and subside.
Other Possible Causes
In addition to the most common reasons above, there are several more reasons why someone might lose their sense of smell and taste. Here’s a list of possible causes to consider:[*]
- Nasal Polyps
- Some Medications
- Dental Problems
- Cancer Treatment
- Alzheimer’s Disease
- Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Head Injuries
- Vitamin and Nutrient Deficiencies (especially Zinc)
In many cases, the loss of a person’s sense of smell and taste is actually a symptom of an underlying cause, such as an upper respiratory infection (URI) or sinusitis from a cold or allergies, and usually clears up as the primary condition subsides.[*]
- Get enough sleep and drink plenty of warm fluids to help you get your smell and taste back.
- Staying hydrated and getting plenty of rest are both good ways to help power your immune system, reduce inflammation and swelling, and dilute excessive mucus build-up caused by an upper respiratory or sinus infection.
- Use a nasal nebulizer to deliver a jet of low-volume, highly concentrated mist intranasally to help clear out your sinuses and reduce mucus build-up.
- NasoNeb’s all-in-one sinus therapy system is a great choice for daily use to relieve chronic symptoms, such as post nasal drip and nasal congestion.
- There are several over-the-counter remedies and medications available to help if you’re suffering from a cold or flu, such as antihistamines, decongestants, cough medicines and throat lozenges.
- You could also contact a doctor for more severe symptoms or to inquire about prescription flu medicines.
- Allergies and sinus infections are often treated with over-the-counter decongestants and antihistamines to reduce post nasal drip, nasal congestion, and excessive mucus build-up.
- These types of treatments can help you regain your sense of smell and taste by temporarily reducing the amount of congestion blocking your smell sensors (the olfactory sensory neurons), located high inside the back of your nose.
- Nasal rinses and spray bottles are often used to flush out blockages in the front of the nose, and in some cases, to help temporarily restore someone’s sense of smell and taste.
- However, they are not designed to flush out the areas high in the nose where your olfactory sensors are located.
Olfactory Training (Smell Training)
In certain cases, in order to help reawaken your sense of smell and taste, a healthcare professional might recommend Smell Training. It’s a technique that is meant to help sufferers regain their sense of smell and taste by sniffing a combination of odors on a daily basis, typically in the form of essential oils.[*]
When To See A Doctor
In most cases, losing your sense of smell and taste is temporary. It’s most often related to an underlying cause, such as the common cold or seasonal allergies, and will resolve itself over time.
If your loss of smell and taste continues to be a problem for l, you should contact a healthcare professional for advice and treatment options.
If you suspect, your loss of smell and taste is related to something more severe, such as COVID-19 or a complication with your medications, contact your doctor or call your local health department immediately.