Problems with Taste

Causes of Taste Disorders

Loss of taste may be permanent or temporary, depending on the cause. As with vision and hearing, people gradually lose their ability to taste as they get older, but it is usually not as noticeable as loss of smell. Medications and illness can make the normal loss of taste worse.

Common Causes

Problems with taste are caused by anything that interrupts the transfer of taste sensations to the brain, or by conditions that affect the way the brain interprets the sensation of taste. Some people are born with taste disorders, but most develop them after an injury or illness. Among the causes of taste problems are

  • medications
  • upper respiratory and middle ear infections
  • radiation for treatment of head and neck cancers
  • exposure to certain chemicals
  • head injury
  • some surgeries
  • poor oral hygiene and dental problems
  • smoking.

In many cases, people regain their sense of taste when they stop taking medications or when the illness or injury clears up.

Medications.Taking medications can affect our ability to taste. Some antibiotics and antihistamines as well as other medications can cause a bad taste in the mouth or a loss of taste. One type of taste disorder is characterized by a persistent bad taste in the mouth, such as a bitter or salty taste. This is called dysgeusia and it occurs in older people, usually because of medications or oral health problems.

Upper Respiratory and Middle Ear Infections. Respiratory infections such as the flu can lead to taste disorders.

Radiation for Head and Neck Cancers. People with head and neck cancers who receive radiation treatment to the nose and mouth regions commonly experience problems with their sense of smell and taste as an unfortunate side effect. Older people who have lost their larynx or voice box commonly complain of poor ability to smell and taste.

Exposure to Certain Chemicals. Sometimes exposure to certain chemicals, such as insecticides and solvents, can impair taste. Avoid contact with these substances, and if you do come in contact with them and experience a problem, see your doctor.

Head Injury. Previous surgery or trauma to the head can impair your sense of taste because the taste nerves may be cut, blocked or physically damaged.

Some Surgeries. Some surgeries to the ear nose and throat can impair taste. These include third molar—wisdom tooth—extraction and middle ear surgery.

Poor Oral Hygiene and Dental Problems. Gum disease can cause problems with taste and so can can dentures and inflammation or infections in the mouth. If you take several medications, your mouth may produce less saliva. This causes dry mouth, which can make swallowing and digestion difficult and increase dental problems. Practice good oral hygiene, keep up to date with your dental appointments, and tell your dentist if you notice any problems with your sense of taste.

Smoking. Tobacco smoking is the most concentrated form of pollution that most people are exposed to. Smokers often report an improved sense of taste after quitting.

When To See the Doctor

Be sure to see your doctor if you have had a taste problem for a while or if you notice that your problem with taste is associated with other symptoms. Let your doctor know if you are taking any medications that might affect your sense of taste. You may be able to change or adjust your medicine to one that will not cause a problem with taste. Your doctor will work with you to get the medicine you need while trying to reduce unwanted side effects.