Taste Disorders – Symptoms and Causes

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taste disorders

A lot of people make sense of taste for assumed, but the taste disorder can have a negative effect on the health and quality of life. But, if you have a problem with your taste, then know that you are not alone. Every year, more than 200,000 people go to a doctor for issues with their ability to taste or smell. Scientists say that up to 15% of adults may have problems with their taste [1], but they do not seek medical help. Phantom taste perception is the most common taste disorder. Often, it has an unpleasant taste even though there is nothing in your mouth.

taste disorders

Also, in some people is noticed a reduced ability to taste sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and umami, which is a condition known as hypogeusia. Some people cannot detect any tastes and this is known as ageusia. But, true taste loss is rare. In most cases, people experience loss of smell instead of loss of taste. The tastes of taste and smell are very closely related. Many people go to a doctor because they have lost their sense of taste and they are surprised when their doctors say that they have lost their sense of smell.

The ability to taste is coming from tiny molecules when we drink, chew, or digest food. These molecules are stimulating special sensory cells in the mouth and the throat. The taste cells are also known as gustatory cells. They are clustered within the taste buds of the tongue and roof of the mouth and along the lining of the throat. Many of these small bumps on the tip of the tongue have taste buds. At birth, you have about 10,000 taste buds. But, after you have achieved age 50, you may start to lose them. [1,2]

When your taste cells are stimulated, then they send messages through three specialized taste nerves to the brain, where specific tastes are identified. Our taste cells have receptors that respond to one of the least 5 basic taste qualities – sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and umami. Umami is known for its savory taste. This is the taste that you get from glutamate that is found in meat extracts, chicken broth, and some cheeses. The taste quality is one way that you experience certain food.

If you have some changes in your taste or you feel that your food does not have a taste, then talk with your doctor. He or she can help you to discover the underlying cause and give you the right treatment. The loss of taste can cause serious health problems. When you have a distorted sense of taste, then it can be a risk factor for stroke, diabetes, heart disease, and other illnesses which require sticking to a specific diet. When your taste is affected, you may want to eat too little and lose weight, or eat too much and gain weight.

Symptoms

The taste problems and loss of taste can have many different symptoms, which accompany them. This depends on the underlying cause. Some of the most common symptoms which often accompany taste disorders include [3]:

  1. Indigestion
  2. Heartburn
  3. Cough
  4. Bloating
  5. Abdominal pain
  6. Swelling of the face or neck
  7. Sore throat
  8. Redness over your side of your face or your upper neck
  9. Pain in your face or mouth
  10. Fever
  11. Dry mouth
  12. Decreased ability to open your mouth

Your doctor will send you to an otolaryngologist which can identify and treat the underlying cause for your taste disorder. The otolaryngologist will decide the duration of your taste disorder by measuring the lowest concentration of the taste quality which you can detect or recognize. Your doctor may ask you to compare the tastes of different substances or to not how the intensity of a taste grows when a substance’s concentration is increased.

Causes

Some people are born with taste disorders. But, most people develop taste disorders after an injury or illness. The most common causes for taste problems are next:

  • Poor oral hygiene and dental problems [4]
  • Some surgeries to the ear, nose, and throat (such as middle ear surgery) or extraction of the third molar (known as wisdom tooth)
  • Head injury
  • A disclosure to specific chemicals, such as insecticides and some medications, including some common antibiotics and antihistamines [5]
  • Radiation therapy for cancers of the head and neck [6]
  • Upper respiratory and middle ear infections

References:

[1] National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Taste disorders. Retrieved from www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/taste-disorders

[2] Endocrine Society. Low number of taste buds linked to older age, higher fasting blood sugar. Science Daily. 2014. Retrieved from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140623092021

[3] Heckmann JG, Heckmann SM, Lang CJG, et al. Neurological aspects of taste disorders. Archives of Neurology. 2003;60(5):667-71. doi:10.1001/archneur.60.5.667

[4] Solemdal K, Sandvik L, Willumsen T, et al. The impact of oral health on taste ability in acutely hospitalized elderly. PLoS One. 2012;7(5):e36557. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0036557

[5] Schiffman SS. Influence of medications on taste and smell. World Journal of Otorhinolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery. 2018;4(1):84–91. doi:10.1016/j.wjorl.2018.02.005

[6] Gunn L, Gilbert J, Nenclares P, et al. Taste dysfunction following radiotherapy to the head and neck: A systematic review. Radiotherapy and Oncology. 2021;157:130-140. doi:10.1016/j.radonc.2021.01.021.

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