by Dr. Thomas K. Lo
As you age, you are likely to find that your sense of taste starts to decline. You were born with 10,000 taste buds, but after age fifty, that number gradually starts to decrease.
Loss of taste can be permanent or temporary, depending on the cause. As with diminished 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.
Problems with taste can be 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. Some causes of taste problems are listed below.
Taking medications can affect your 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 parageusia and it occurs in older people, usually because of medications or oral health problems. If you are taking medications such as certain antibiotics or antihistamines or other medications and notice a persistent bad taste in your mouth, talk to your doctor. You may be able to adjust or change your medicine to one that will not cause a problem with taste. In many cases, people regain their sense of taste when they stop taking medications or when the illness or injury clears up.
Upper Respiratory and Middle Ear Infections
Respiratory infections, such as the flu, can lead to taste disorders. In many cases, people regain their sense of taste when they stop taking medications or when the illness or injury clears up. You can help prevent respiratory infections, such as the flu, with proper hygiene by washing your hands frequently, especially during the winter months. In addition, if you work and it is feasible, you may want to consider staying home until you recover.
Radiation for Treatment of 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 are exposed to them and experience a problem, see your doctor.
Previous surgery or trauma to the head can impair your sense of taste because the taste nerves may be cut, blocked, or physically damaged. To reduce the risk of injuries to the head, everyone should wear a seat belt when riding in a car. People who participate in sports where they may incur a head injury, such as bicycling, should wear protective helmets and gear.
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 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.
Tobacco smoking is the most concentrated form of pollution to which most people are exposed. Smokers often report an improved sense of taste after quitting. For free help to quit smoking, visit Smokefree.gov.
Other causes of impaired taste may include Sjogren’s syndrome, an autoimmune disease that causes dry mouth and dry eyes. Also nutritional deficiencies, especially vitamin B-12 and zinc, can cause impaired taste.
Taste is one of our most robust senses. Taste helps us recognize when food is good or bad for us. However, even more important, loss of taste can cause a loss of appetite, especially in older adults, which can lead to loss of weight, poor nutrition, weakened immunity, and even death. 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.
Loss of taste can have a significant impact on your quality of life. Not only can it lead to decreased appetite and poor nutrition, but it can also contribute to depression. Loss of taste can also lead you to use excess salt or sugar on your food to enhance the taste, which could be a problem if you have high blood pressure or diabetes.
If you are struggling with some of the symptoms listed above and would like a free evaluation, call the Advanced Chiropractic & Nutritional Healing Center at 240-651-1650. Dr. Lo uses a non-invasive way to analyze the body to determine the underlying causes of ill or non-optimum health. We also offer free seminars that are held at the office on rotating Tuesdays and Thursdays. The office is located at 7310 Grove Road #107 in Frederick. Check out the website at www.doctorlo.com.