Taste and Smell Disorders

IMAGE Imagine not being able to smell your favorite aromas, whatever they may be (perhaps cinnamon rolls, freshly brewed coffee, gardenias, or balsam). Think about the foods you like so much. What if you couldn’t taste them? This is a daily reality for people who partially or completely lose their senses of taste and smell. Some of life’s most pleasurable experiences are associated with the senses of taste and smell. For that reason, disorders that cause a loss of taste and smell can be particularly frustrating. They can also be dangerous when they impair a person’s ability to notice dangerous situations, such as smoke or toxic fumes. Because taste and smell disorders can decrease a person’s enjoyment in eating, they may also lead to weight loss and even malnutrition.

The Taste-Smell Link

Remember when you were a child and your mother made you eat something that you didn’t like? You might have held your nose as you swallowed. Even then, you sensed that there was a connection between taste and smell. And you were right: taste and smell are closely linked. Taste buds on your tongue identify taste, and nerves in your nose identify smells. Both sensations combine to play a role in your ability to recognize and appreciate flavors. There are five basic taste sensations can be recognized without the sense of smell:
  • Sweet
  • Sour
  • Bitter
  • Salty
  • Umami (the savory taste elicited by glutamate, found in protein-rich foods such as chicken broth, meats, extracts, and some cheeses)
However, to recognize many other, more complex flavors, your sense of smell is necessary. For example, if you held your nose while eating some lemon pudding, you would have difficulty identifying the lemon flavor because it is sensed mostly by odor. You would, however, be able to distinguish its sweetness or bitterness.If you’re having difficulty tasting your food, you may have a problem with your taste buds, but it’s more likely that the problem is with your sense of smell.

What Are Taste and Smell Disorders?

People with taste disorders may complain of phantom taste perceptions (tasting something that isn’t there); a reduced ability to taste the 5 basic taste sensations, or have a distorted sense of taste. Although some people can detect no taste, true loss of taste is rare. Perceived loss of taste is usually related to loss of smell.People with smell disorders experience either a loss in their ability to smell or changes in their sense of smell. Some develop hyposmia, a decreased ability to detect odors. Others can’t detect odors at all, which is called anosmia. Some people notice that familiar odors have become distorted. For example, an odor that usually smells pleasant may smell foul to them or they may perceive an odor that isn’t present.

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