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Ageusia (loss of taste)

Dr. Nabi Darya Vali (AIIMS)MBBS

July 10, 2020

July 10, 2020

Ageusia
Ageusia

Losing your ability to taste can end up altering your quality of life. Imagine never being able to taste ice-cream again or your favourite fried chicken or rajma dish!

Temporary and partial loss of sense of taste can happen for a number of reasons. For example, when you have a cold or middle ear infection, you may not be able to taste things properly.

But completely losing ones sense of taste is a rare occurrence—medically, this is known as ageusia. A person loses the ability to detect flavours such as sweet, salty, sour, bitter and savoury (better known by its Japanese expression, Umami) in this condition.

Ageusia is often mistaken for loss of sense of smell—it is true that ageusia and anosmia (loss of sense of smell) may occur together, but this isn't always the case.

While ageusia can happen as a consequence of a serious health condition, it can also happen with advancing age—just as your vision, hearing or voice get affected by age, so can your sense of taste.

According to a study published in the Postgraduate Medical Journal, there are a number of reasons for gustatory or taste dysfunction in older age. Some of these are:

  • Previous upper respiratory tract infection
  • Head injury
  • Some medicines cause loss of sense of taste
  • Chewing problems because of tooth loss and discomfort in wearing dentures
  • Reduced saliva production
  • Mouth and pharyngeal disease such as candidiasis infection

Loss of sense of smell and taste in COVID-19 has also been added to the list of symptoms of the respiratory illness that has gripped the world since December 2019.

Types of loss of taste

Loss of sense of taste can happen to varying degrees as follows:

  • Ageusia: Complete loss of taste
  • Hypoageusia: Partial loss of taste
  • Dysgeusia: An alteration to the sense of taste (for example, metallic taste in the mouth)

Ageusia (loss of taste) symptoms

Disorders relating to the sense of taste can occur due to damage to or problems with the nose or the nervous system, as different signals are sent to the brain which then perceives the different tastes. 

Much like anosmia, losing your sense of taste (or ageusia) is a symptom in itself—most of the time, it points to an underlying condition or disorder.

A person with a taste disorder may get a completely different taste from food and drinks, with a strange metallic, salty or bitter taste, or experience a general lack of flavour or not be able to taste anything at all, depending on the degree of the disorder.

Ageusia (loss of taste) causes

An impaired sense of taste can be caused due to a number of factors including:

Prevention of ageusia (loss of taste)

Temporary loss of sense of taste is not only treatable, but it can be prevented by following a healthy lifestyle.

Losing your sense of taste may happen due to the damage to the taste buds on the tongue due to a dry mouth. One can prevent losing their sense of taste by: 

Diagnosis of ageusia (loss of taste)

If you have been experiencing a foul taste in the mouth or a reduced sensation of taste, you must visit a doctor and seek proper medical guidance. If this condition has emerged with other symptoms such as difficulty breathing, fever, weakness in the body or blurred vision, seek immediate medical attention.

A doctor would usually begin by enquiring about your medical history and ask questions about your symptoms and how long you have been experiencing this problem. The doctor would then perform a physical exam to look for other visible signs, or order imaging tests such as X-rays, CT scan or MRI scan.

Ageusia (loss of taste) treatment

Unless the loss of taste is the result of a birth defect or its onset has been due to advancing age, ageusia can be treated by addressing the underlying condition:

  • If it has been brought on due to the use of certain medications, check with your doctor if those medicines can be changed (do not change your medicines or dosage without your doctor's recommendation).
  • Conditions such as sinus infections, infection of the salivary glands or involving the throat may be treated with antibiotics, antivirals or decongestants and other medications and therapies to ease the symptoms of the flu, common cold or allergies. (Read more: Humidifier benefits and side effects)
  • Quitting smoking has also been known to restore a chronic smoker's sense of taste over time.
  • Maintaining proper dental hygiene can also help reverse or restore your sense of taste.
  • Treatment for other underlying conditions such as GI issues, autoimmune diseases or complications of the nervous system can also be treated with the help of medications.

Ageusia (loss of taste) complications

One of the complications of losing your sense of taste can be a reduced or compromised quality of life.

We use our sense of taste to know when food has gone bad or should not be eaten. Loss of sense of taste can prevent you from being able to reject foul, contaminated or stale food or water. This, in turn, can lead to weight loss and malnutrition.

But with proper treatment, a patient's sense of taste can be restored, and one must waste no time in getting it checked by an ENT (ear, nose and throat specialist).



References

  1. Johns Hopkins Medicine. [Internet] Baltimore, Maryland, USA. Smell and Taste Disorders.
  2. Boyce JM and Shone GR. Effects of ageing on smell and taste. Postgrad Med J. 2006 Apr; 82(966): 239–241. PMID: 16597809.
  3. Maheswaran T et al. Gustatory dysfunction. Journal of Pharmacy & Bioallied Sciences. 2014 Jul; 6(1): 30–33. PMID: 25210380.

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