Loss of taste is a common symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), inflammation of the salivary glands, sinusitis, poor oral hygiene, and even some medications. Ageusia is the medical word denoting a complete lack of taste. Dysgeusia is a term that refers to a partial lack of taste. Taste loss occurs as a result of an interruption in the transmission of taste sensations to the brain or as a result of a problem with the way the brain interprets these sensations. While difficulties with taste are common, complete loss of taste is uncommon.
Individuals infected with the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19 frequently develop a loss of taste and smell.
Heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux disease is a common cause of taste loss. Regurgitated stomach acid in the mouth leads to a loss of normal taste and a taste described as acidic or metallic. Another common cause of loss of taste is oral or tongue infection. Similarly, poor dental hygiene results in bacterial development in the mouth, impairing taste. Other conditions affecting the mouth or tongue, such as mouth ulcers, cancer, or damage caused by cigarette use, might result in loss of taste.
Taste loss can also occur as a side effect of radiation therapy and some medications, including antibiotics and angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors. It may take months or even years to resolve taste issues. Certain types of loss of taste are permanent, mainly if the mouth is the focus of direct radiation therapy.
A loss of taste in the mouth may indicate a more serious underlying problem. Seek quick medical attention if you experience prolonged loss of taste in your mouth or if it causes you concern. Seek emergency medical attention (call 911) if you experience loss of taste in conjunction with other significant symptoms such as difficulty breathing, a high fever, abrupt weakness, vision changes, or difficulty thinking clearly.
Taste loss may occur in conjunction with other symptoms that differ according to the underlying disease, disorder, or condition. Symptoms that commonly impact the sense of taste can affect other body systems as well. Some associated symptoms include:
- Abdominal pain
- Decreased ability to open your mouth
- Dry mouth
- Pain in your face or mouth
- Redness over the side of the face or the upper neck
- Sore throat
- Swelling of the face or neck
- Loss of appetite
- Tongue changes
Causes of Loss of Taste
Loss of taste can occur as a result of inflammation and infection of the upper respiratory tract, sinuses, mouth, and tongue. Symptoms may occur as a result of inflammatory disorders, infections, or diseases affecting the taste buds on the tongue that are important for taste perception. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) has a similar effect on the tongue’s surface, which is susceptible to gastric acid and bile injury.
Additionally, taste loss can be a result of disorders affecting other parts of the body, such as the neurological system. Certain nutrient deficiencies result in the body not receiving an adequate amount of a particular vitamin or nutrient necessary for nerve function, resulting in nerve malfunction or damage. Taste sensations may be lost in the case of the nerves that innervate the tongue.
The following are possible causes of loss of taste:
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Mouth infections or abscess
- Poor oral hygiene
- Radiation therapy
- Salivary gland infection
- Sinus infection
- Sjogren’s syndrome (an autoimmune disorder characterized by dry mouth and eyes)
- Tobacco use
- Glossitis (a condition in which the tongue swells and changes color)
- Oral candidiasis (an infection on the mucous membranes of the mouth)
- Vitamin B12 deficiency
- Zinc deficiency
Diagnosis of Loss of Taste
Otolaryngologists are specialists who can diagnose and treat both smell and taste issues. These physicians are experts in ear, nose, and throat issues, as well as conditions affecting the head and neck.
The doctor may examine the mouth or nose for growths, monitor the patient’s breathing, and look for other indicators of infection. Additionally, they will check the individual’s medical history and inquire about any drug usage or possible exposure to harmful chemicals.
The doctor will examine the patient’s mouth and teeth for signs of disease and inflammation. To aid in diagnosing taste loss, the doctor may apply certain chemicals directly to the tongue or mix them into a solution that the patient swishes around in their mouth. A person’s reaction to these compounds may aid in determining which part of taste is affected.
While determining the type of sensory loss a person is experiencing and the underlying ailment can take time, a correct diagnosis is a critical first step toward adequate treatment.
Treatment of Loss of Taste
Treatment choices will be determined by the underlying condition causing the loss of taste. In uncomplicated situations, such as those caused by the common cold or flu, doctors would typically wait until the infection disappears before treating the patient. Generally, once the disease is resolved, the sense of taste should return.
Antibiotics may be prescribed for those who have bacterial infections such as sinus or middle ear infections. For more significant problems, such as nervous system diseases or concussions, a specialized treatment plan will be required.