Impaired taste means that your sense of taste is not functioning properly. Impaired taste can refer to the absence of taste or an altered sense, such as a metallic taste in the mouth. Most people experience impaired taste on a temporary and partial basis. It’s very rare to lose your sense of taste completely.
Causes of impaired taste range from the common cold to more serious medical conditions involving the central nervous system. Impaired taste can also be a sign of normal aging. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), most adults over the age of 60 begin to show signs of impaired taste (NIH, 2011).
The senses of taste and smell are closely linked. The flavors of food are actually a combination of smell and taste. In some cases, your taste buds may be functioning just fine, but your sense of smell is the problem. Your doctor might send you to an ear, nose, and throat specialist called an otolaryngologist to determine if you have a smell disorder.
A wide variety of causes exist for impaired taste. Many of the causes involve your respiratory system. Even if you do not have a diagnosed smell disorder, the temporary interruption of smell you experience during a cold or other respiratory illness can impair your sense of taste. The common cold, flu, sinus infections, and throat infections such as strep throat and pharyngitis can all be factors in your experiences of impaired taste. Salivary gland infections may also cause your sense of taste to be “off.”
Other causes of impaired taste include:
- gum inflammation (such as gingivitis or periodontal disease)
- medication use (including lithium, thyroid medications, and cancer treatments)
- Sjogren’s syndrome (an autoimmune disease that causes dry mouth and dry eyes)
- head or ear injuries
- nutritional deficiencies, especially vitamin B-12 and zinc
Disorders of the nervous system can also cause you to have an altered sense of taste. Nervous system disorders affect how your nerves send messages to the rest of your body. The Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford explains that the organs that control taste may also be affected by nervous system impairment (LPCH). People diagnosed with certain disorders, including multiple sclerosis and Bell’s palsy, may experience impaired taste at times.
Treating the underlying condition that causes your impaired sense of taste can help restore your taste. Bacterial sinusitis, salivary glands, and throat infections can be treated with antibiotics. Symptoms of colds, flu, and allergic rhinitis that impact taste may be relieved with decongestants or antihistamines. Once you are feeling better, your taste will most likely return quickly.
Your doctor may prescribe medications to minimize the effects of a nervous system disorder or an autoimmune disease that cause impaired taste.
Zinc supplementation can improve taste in some people, according to the Bastyr Center for Natural Health. Studies reported in the Journal of Dental Research showed that 140 mg of zinc taken daily for three months improved taste in up to 50 percent of study participants (Bastyr Center, 2012).
Most often, lifestyle changes are all you need to improve your sense of taste. If you are a smoker, quit smoking to taste your food fully. Ex-smokers begin to regain their sense of taste as quickly as two days after they have kicked the habit.
Proper dental hygiene can also reverse impaired sense of taste. Gingivitis is the beginnings of gum disease. Gum disease can occur when plaque remains on your gum line. Through brushing and flossing, you can eliminate plaque from your mouth, protect your teeth from disease and decay, and help regain your full sense of taste.