Understanding Smell And Taste Disorders

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Smell and taste are senses you probably take for granted. At least, until they’re gone.

Loss of taste and smell gained greater attention after becoming recognized as one of the surprising symptoms of COVID-19 infection.

But taste and smell disorders can also result from other medical conditions, says Stewart Adam, MD, an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) and head and neck surgical specialist. These disorders, ranging from a dulling of the senses to a complete loss, affect about 2 million people in the U.S., according to the American Rhinologic Society (ARS).

Causes Of Smell And Taste Disorders

Dr. Adam adds that you can be at increased risk of smell and taste disorders when you have conditions such as:

  • Chronic sinus diseases, such as sinusitis
  • Allergic Rhinitis (allergies and hay fever)
  • Hormonal disturbances
  • Dental problems
  • Head injuries
  • Some nervous system diseases

In addition, smoking, radiation therapy, and exposure to some kinds of chemicals, insecticides, and medicines can increase your risk of losing smell and taste. And you can start to lose your sense of smell after age 60.

Your risk increases when nasal polyps, noncancerous growths, form in the mucosa, or lining tissues, of your nose, Dr. Adam says. These growths that result from inflammation of the nasal passages can block scents from getting to the part of your nose that perceives smell.

“The people at risk for developing smell or taste disorders, probably the biggest group, are those suffering from chronic sinusitis and particularly those with nasal polyps,” he says. “Additionally, those with allergic rhinitis, allergies, and hay fever.”

Dr. Adam explains conditions that can increase your risk of losing your senses of taste and smell.

Click play to watch the video or read video transcript.

The senses of smell and taste are closely linked so that problems with one can lead to problems with the other.

“Our sense of smell is the big driver of how we taste and appreciate things,” Dr. Adam says. He explains that the taste buds in your tongue provide a basic sense of taste, while your sense of smell enhances your appreciation for the flavor of food. “Any time our sense of smell is affected, it’s going to affect our sense of taste.”

Dr. Adam talks about how smell and taste disorders can occur on a spectrum, from blunted sensation to total loss.

Click play to watch the video or read video transcript.

Treatment Of Smell And Taste Disorders

If you notice problems with your taste or smell, first contact your primary care provider, Dr. Adam recommends. Your provider may refer you for an examination by an ENT head and neck surgical specialist, who treats taste and smell disorders.

This would include having a pencil-sized endoscope placed in your nose, while under anesthesia, “to look at the extent of possible chronic polyps or disease that would be causing the obstruction” and loss of taste and smell.

In some cases, medication can be prescribed to treat a smell and taste disorder caused by an allergy or other nasal inflammation.

If polyps are found to be the cause of your smell and taste disorder, a head and neck surgeon can remove them to improve your smell and taste.

For some chronic neck and head conditions, such as chronic rhinosinusitis, a smell and taste disorder can be permanent, according to the ARS. For cases like this, oral steroids can be beneficial.

It's easy to get the care you need.

See a Premier Physician Network provider near you.