Smell and Taste Disorders

Written by Leanna Serras

Smell and taste disorders are a common problem with the population that often times go unnoticed by physicians and the medical community of professionals, as a whole. One common sign includes difficulty with the proper identification of easily recognizable tastes and fragrance aromas. Contributing factors that result in problems with smelling and tasting include disease, medications, dental work, infections, trauma, and Bell’s palsy. Besides eating, the senses of smell and taste have another very important function and that is to warn the body of spoiled edible matter, smoke, fumes, and other toxins that may be present in the environment. A reduced ability to consistently smell greatly affects the ability to taste, so the two senses are very closely related and dependant on one another.

Smell disorders are experienced by a large number of people and more cases are continually reported each year. It is documented that close to one quarter of a million people seek medical care from their doctor each year due to the fact that their sense of smell is reduced.  A similar number of people also have issues with a reduced ability to taste. Many of these cases go unreported because those affected, simply add more salt or seasoning to their meals to compensate the difference and the root of the problem is never explored, properly. The ability to smell actually detects chemicals with the help of sensors located in the throat, mouth, and nose. Once tiny molecules are released from foods or objects, these sensors in the human body send a message to the brain, and we recognize a corresponding odor or flavor. A smell disorder is the loss of the ability to smell or a change in the perception on how perfume should smell, for example. Health related problems that frequently contribute to this include upper respiratory infections and head injuries. Other health ailments that contribute to this are polyps in nasal cavities, hormonal changes, and dental work. Smell disorders are serious and are early warning signs for much more serious health problems like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and multiple sclerosis. Smell disorders can be treated and the solutions vary as much as the problems. Some suggestions for treatment are to change medications, treat infections, and removing polyps if that’s the cause of the problem.  

Taste disorders are closely tied to smell disorders, but the way in which taste is accomplished varies slightly. The taste buds actually capture the information that allows the human body to identify foods and drinks. Taste buds are located in the mouth, tongue, and throat and make up the remaining sensors in the chemosensory system. The commonly identifiable tastes include salty, sweet, bitter, sour, and umami. These tastes combined with each other, as well as temperature and texture to provide the recognizable characteristics of food. True medical taste loss is very uncommon and usually the changed perception of a taste or the loss of taste is directly related to a smell disorder. A reduced ability to taste is called hypogeusia and the loss of taste is known as ageusia. Taste disorders are also serious, and like the smell disorders treatments are available as well. 

Although smell and taste disorders commonly exist, they are often overlooked and ignored. The consequences of a disorder can be cumbersome and serious, if not treated in a timely manner. The seemingly insignificant symptoms that reveal themselves often are warning signs of more serious diseases to come. Additional links and informative resources are available below: