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What Exactly Causes a Loss of Smell  and Taste

A loss of smell or taste can be frustrating. But in most cases, this impairment is only temporary with a complete loss of the two important senses being rare. Here is a list of some conditions that are characterized by smell and taste impairment:

  • Hyposmia- partial loss of the ability to smell
  • Anosmia- complete loss of the ability to smell
  • Hypogeusia- partial loss of the ability to taste
  • Ageusia- a complete loss of the ability to taste
  • Parosmia- a distorted sense of smell
  • Dusgeusia- a distorted sense of taste

Understanding smell impairment

Smell impairment can be partial or total. A temporary loss of smell results from nasal congestion, allergic rhinitis, colds and other nasal allergies. When the nasal passage is blocked, it hinders the sense of smell and taste as these are related functions. Nasal tumors, polyps and septal deformities also prevent air flow to the region consisting of smell receptors.

With age, the sense of smell can be affected to a degree. Alzheimer’s disease, a type of dementia that affects brain functions, can also result in smell impairments. Disorders of the brain and nervous system may also affect a person's ability to smell. This includes head trauma and head or brain tumors. Endocrine system and nutritional disorders are other causal factors of smell impairment.  

In addition to these, the other causes of smell impairment include:

  • Decreased ability to smell is one of the side effects of radiation therapy.
  • Side effects of  hormone therapy and topical amphetamines include loss of smell
  • Using nasal decongestants for prolonged periods of time can also affect the ability smell.

Understanding taste impairment

Smell and taste disorders, most of the time, go hand in hand. People suffering from taste impairments often suffer from taste problems as well, being unable to identify the flavor of food.

The ability to taste can be affected if (a) the transfer of the sensations of taste to the brain is interrupted (b) the brain is unable to interpret these sensations. Some of the causal factors of taste impairment include:

  • Flu and common cold
  • Aging - As the taste bud numbers fall with age, the sense of taste can be affected.
  • Sjogren syndrome - This is a type of auto-immune disorder where the saliva and tear producing glands are destroyed. One of the symptoms of this disorder includes a loss of taste.
  • Strep throat- A type of bacterial infection affecting the throat, the symptoms of this condition include abnormal taste and a loss of appetite.

A loss of or abnormal smell and taste should be reported to a specialist doctor immediately. Temporary impairments brought on by sinusitis or cold are easily treated with medications. But a different underlying cause, determined by a scan or endoscopy, may call for specific treatments.

Treatment

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