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Smell and Taste Disorders Affect Quality of Life, Personal Safety

Loss of senses could signal the presence of an underlying health issue

TROY, Ohio (March 16, 2017) – The body’s five senses are powerful tools that help a person understand their surroundings and enjoy the life they’ve been given. Therefore, when one or more of those senses is lost, it can have a profound impact on their quality of life.

“Smell and taste are two senses that often go hand-in-hand, and which can be taken for granted until they are compromised,” said Stewart Adam, III, MD, an otolaryngologist with Upper Valley ENT Associates. “Smell and taste are functions that not only allow us to enjoy life greatly, but to stimulate our appetites, nourish our minds and bodies, and really help give us social context and framework.”

Most people know from experience that smell and taste operate closely together. Basic receptors on the tongue send signals to the brain as to whether a food is sweet, salty, bitter or sour. The nose supplements that function by allowing a person to fully experience food through its aroma.

“There are certain receptors at the top of our nose and the base of our skull called the olfactory groove,” said Dr. Adam. “When flavors and odorants get in there, a person is able to have a more holistic appreciation for what things taste like.”

A common cold will often rob someone of their ability to smell and taste properly, but thankfully the loss is only temporary. There are some who permanently lose their sense of taste and smell, and when this happens, it can signal an underlying health issue as well as compromise a person’s quality of life.

People who are unable to smell and taste properly or at all tend to eat poorly, socialize less and feel worse. They also are placed at risk for accidents since their body is no longer able to alert them to fire, poisonous fumes or spoiled food, according to the American Academy of Otolaryngology.

“Smell and taste disorders can be caused by a number of head and neck issues,” Dr. Adam said. “It can be due to an upper-respiratory infection, chronic sinusitis, head trauma or nasal polyps. There are some individuals who are born without the ability to taste or smell.”

Dr. Adam said it is important for individuals to consider the following points if they think their sense of smell and taste has diminished:

  • Don’t brush it off – Be evaluated by your primary care physician and consider a consultation with an ear, nose and throat physician. A loss of taste and smell shouldn’t be seen as ordinary and an exam should help reveal if there is an underlying health cause.
  • Senses rise and fall – With that said, it’s important to understand that a person’s sense and smell fluctuates by age. Our sense of smell and taste are actually dull at birth and reaches its highest potential by age 30. Older adults may notice the senses dimming a bit after age 60.
  • Your safety depends on it – Your ability to smell your surroundings and accurately taste the food you are placing in your mouth play a big role in keeping you safe. If you are unable to experience your surroundings through these senses, take steps that will help make up for that loss. Install smoke detectors and learn to read expiration labels on food.

“For most of us, a smell will bring back memories from years ago in our past. This alone shows how integral a role this sense plays in our lives,” Dr. Adam said. “People need to understand that if there is an underlying problem, they can often get it resolved and ultimately fully enjoy life once more.”

Click here for more information on smell and taste disorders or to find a Premier Health Specialists’ physician near you.

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