Impaired taste means that your sense of taste is not functioning properly. Impaired taste can refer to the absence of taste. It can also refer to an altered sense, such as a metallic taste in the mouth.
Most people only experience impaired taste temporarily, and only lose part of their ability to taste. 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. It is estimated that about 75 percent of people over the age of 80 have impaired taste.
Taste vs. smell
The senses of taste and smell are closely linked. The flavors in food can be tasted because of a combination of your ability to 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. Many common conditions can all affect your ability to taste, such as:
- the common cold
- sinus infections
- throat infections, such as strep throat and pharyngitis
- salivary gland infections
Other causes of impaired taste include:
- gum inflammation, such as gingivitis or periodontal disease
- medication, 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 an altered sense of taste. Nervous system disorders affect how your nerves send messages to the rest of your body. The organs that control taste may also be affected by nervous system impairment.
People diagnosed with certain disorders, including multiple sclerosis and Bell’s palsy, may sometimes experience impaired taste.
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 sense of 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 causes impaired taste.
There is also evidence that zinc deficiency can cause impaired taste.
Most often, lifestyle changes are all you need to improve your sense of taste. If you are a smoker, quitting smoking can allow you 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 an impaired sense of taste. Gingivitis is the beginning of gum disease, which occurs 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.