Can you imagine a state of taste loss? It can be very annoying and you may start losing interest in food. It is also possible that you lose the sense of smell too. Such a condition is common among elderly people, as it is normal in aging. But, younger people may sometimes suffer from this condition. This is evident from the fact that, every year, more than 200,000 people are detected with problems related to chemical senses, which include loss of taste, smell or both.
How do we Sense Taste
The mouth and the throat have special sensory cells, that are stimulated by the molecules in the food that is chewed. These sensory cells are called gustatory cells and are found in clusters inside the taste buds. These stimulated gustatory cells (taste cells) send messages to the brain through nerves and thereby the brain identifies each taste. However, the credit of sensing taste does not solely belong to the taste cells only.
Apart from the taste cells, the most important sensory mechanism that helps us in sensing taste is the sensory cells in the nose that are stimulated by smell. When we chew our food, aromas are released and these aromas travel through a channel that connects the roof of the throat to the nose. The sensory cells in the nose are stimulated, which in turn send messages to the brain, which identifies the taste. During a common cold or flu, the passage from the throat to the nose gets blocked and the food aromas do not reach the sensory cells in the nose. This loss of smell affects the taste sensation to a large extent and the food may taste bland.
Now, you know that the sensations of taste and smell are interlinked, so that a loss of smell may affect the sensation of taste. Apart from the sensory cells in the mouth and nose, there is one more mechanism, that helps us to identify the sensations of cold and heat. This mechanism involves several nerve endings on the moist surfaces of the eyes, nose, mouth and throat. These nerve endings help us in sensing the texture of the food, the irritation caused by certain food items, like, pepper and in differentiating cold and hot food. When it comes to the senses, the concerned nerves and the brain are among the most vital parts. All these mechanisms are jointly responsible for the sensation of taste and any impairment to any of these systems may cause a problem with your sense of taste.
What Causes Loss of Taste
Loss of taste can manifest itself in various forms. The condition, wherein the affected person cannot detect any taste is called 'ageusia'. Some people may experience a reduced ability to sense the basic tastes and this condition is called 'hypogeusia'. It has also been observed that some people experience a loss of a specific taste, like sweet or bitter or any other basic taste. In case of phantom taste perception or 'phantogeusia' (one of the common disorders associated with the sense of taste), the affected person experiences an unpleasant or bad taste in the mouth, even though, he doesn't have anything in his mouth.
If a person experiences a rancid or metallic taste (or any such altered or distorted sense of taste) all the time, then he is affected by a condition called 'dysgeusia'. The most common among these disorders is phantom taste perception and the least common is a total loss of taste or ageusia. These conditions may co-exist with loss of smell, which is categorized as anosmia (inability to smell), hyposmia (decreased ability to smell) and dysosmia (distorted smell). As mentioned above, taste and smell are interlinked and there are various disorders, that may pave way to loss of taste.
The following are some of the common loss of taste causes.
- Loss of taste is commonly experienced in some medical conditions like, common cold, tooth and gum diseases, allergies, ear infections, head injury, tongue infection, tonsil disorder, upper respiratory disorders, nasal and sinus problems, nasal polyps, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, brain tumor, Bell's palsy and salivary gland infections.
- Loss of sense of taste causes include deficiencies of certain vitamins and minerals, like, vitamin B12, folate and zinc.
- Fungal infection of the tongue, otherwise known as oral thrush, yeast infection or candidiasis, can be among the causes for loss of taste. A mouth infection called glossitis may also result in this condition.
- Ear infections and middle-ear surgeries may sometimes affect the sense of taste, as one of the major nerves that connects the brain to the taste buds, travels through the middle ear.
- Loss of taste causes include cigarette smoking, exposure to pollutants, intake of some medicines (like antibiotics), radiation therapy for cancer in the head or neck, poor oral hygiene and dental problems. Exposure to chemicals, like some insecticides, can also lead to loss of taste.
- Aging is also said to be a common cause for this state. It is believed that the nerves that control the sensations of taste and smell start a slow degeneration, with increasing age.
- Some people are born with inability to smell and this condition is called 'congenital anosmia'. Such people may also face loss of taste.
While most of these causes are temporary, some of them may result in permanent loss of taste. Studies show that almost 80% of the people affected with loss of taste have actually lost their sense of smell while their taste buds are still intact. So, it is necessary to consult your general practitioner to find out the exact cause for the condition. He may refer you to specialists like allergists, otolaryngology specialists or neurologists for further diagnosis. Some of the causes for loss of taste and smell, like poor oral hygiene and cigarette smoking, are avoidable. A life without the sense of smell and taste can be quite annoying and unpleasant to say the least. So don't take it for granted. Approach a doctor, if you are facing this problem.
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice. Visiting your physician is the safest way to diagnose and treat any health condition.