Many people who think they have a taste disorder actually have a problem with smell. When we chew, aromas are released that activate our sense of smell by way of a special channel that connects the roof of the throat to the nose. Without smell, foods tend to taste bland and have no flavor. Problems with your sense of taste or smell may indicate a more serious medical condition. If you are experiencing problems with your sense of taste, talk with your primary care provider and ask for a referral to an ENT.
Symptoms and causes
There are many taste disorders. You may experience:
- A lingering, often unpleasant taste even though you have nothing in your mouth. This is called phantom taste perception
- A reduced ability to taste sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and umami (savory), a condition called hypogeusia
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- An inability to detect any taste at all, which is called ageusia. True taste loss, however, is rare. Most often, people are experiencing a loss of smell instead of a loss of taste.
- Tastes that are distorted. Dysgeusia is a condition in which a foul, salty, rancid, or metallic taste sensation will persist in the mouth
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- A painful burning sensation in your mouth called burning mouth syndrome
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Some people are born with taste disorders, but most develop them after an injury or illness. Among the causes of taste problems are:
- Upper respiratory and middle ear infections
- Radiation therapy for cancers of the head and neck
- Exposure to certain chemicals, such as insecticides and some medications, including some common antibiotics and antihistamines
- Head injury
- Some surgeries to the ear, nose, and throat (e.g., third molar—wisdom tooth—extraction and middle ear surgery)
- Poor oral hygiene and dental problems
An otolaryngologist can determine the extent of your taste disorder by measuring the lowest concentration of a taste quality that you can detect or recognize. An accurate assessment of your taste loss may include:
- A physical examination of your ears, nose, and throat
- A dental examination
- An assessment of oral hygiene
- A review of your health history
- A taste test supervised by a health care professional