Problems with Taste
Symptoms and Diagnosis
Symptoms Vary With Disorders
There are several types of taste disorders depending on how the sense of taste is affected. People who have taste disorders usually lose their ability to taste or can no longer perceive taste in the same way. The most common taste complaint is "phantom taste perception" -- tasting something when nothing is in the mouth.
Some people have hypogeusia, or the reduced ability to taste. This disorder is usually temporary. True taste disorders are rare. Most changes in the perception of food flavor result from the loss of smell.
Other people can't detect taste at all, which is called ageusia. This type of taste disorder can be caused by head trauma; some surgical procedures, such as middle ear surgery or extraction of the third molar; radiation therapy; and viral infections. More often, people with taste disorders experience a specific ageusia of one or more of the five taste categories: sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and umami, or savory.
Do You Have a Taste Disorder?
If you think you have a taste disorder, try to identify and record the circumstances surrounding it. Ask yourself the following questions:
- When did I first become aware of it?
- What changes in my taste do I notice?
- Do all foods and drinks taste the same?
- Have there been any changes in my sense of smell?
- Does the change in taste affect my ability to eat normally?
Talking With Your Doctor
Bring this information with you when you visit the doctor. Also, be prepared to tell him or her about your general health and any medication you are taking. Your doctor may ask if you recently have had a cold or the flu. Sometimes these conditions can affect taste.
Your doctor may refer you to an otolaryngologist, a specialist in diseases of the ear, nose, and throat. After conducting a complete medical history and physical examination, your doctor may run special tests to find out what type of taste disorder you have and how serious it is.
Tests for Taste Disorders
Some tests are designed to measure the lowest concentration of a substance that a person can detect or recognize. Your doctor may ask you to compare the tastes of different substances or to note how the intensity of a taste grows when a substance's concentration is increased.
Scientists have developed taste tests in which the patient responds to different concentrations of a substance. This may involve a simple "sip, spit, and rinse" test or the application of a substance directly to your tongue using an eye dropper. By using these tests, your doctor can determine if you have a true taste disorder and what type it is.
If your doctor suspects that nerves in your mouth or head may be affected, he or she may order an X-ray, usually a CAT scan, to look further into the head and neck area.
Effects of Taste Loss
If you think you have a taste disorder, see your doctor. Loss of taste can be a sign of a more serious condition. It also can deprive us of an early warning system that most of us take for granted. Taste helps us detect spoiled food and beverages. Perhaps more serious, loss of the sense of taste can lead to depression and a reduced desire to eat. This can be especially serious for older people with chronic illnesses.
Diagnosis of a taste disorder is important because once the cause is found, your doctor may be able to treat your taste disorder. Many types of taste disorders are reversible, but, if not, counseling and self-help techniques may help you cope.