Understanding Smell and Taste Loss

According to otolaryngologists, a person’s sense of smell is at its best between the ages of 30-60. After the age of 60, sense of smell generally decreases. As a result, many elderly people lose their sense of smell entirely. Women of all ages are more likely to have an acute sense of smell than their male counterparts. However, some people are born with a poor sense of smell and taste. Although premature smell and taste loss are common, they can be caused by a number of things.

What can cause premature smell and taste loss?

While some individuals are born with a poor sense of smell or taste, sensory loss can be caused by a number of contributing factors. Patients with an upper respiratory infection or head injury can experience dulled senses. Other factors sometimes include:

  • Tobacco smoking
  • Dental problems
  • Certain medications
  • Polyps in the nasal or sinus cavities
  • Prolonged chemical exposure
  • Hormonal changes
  • Patients who have had a laryngectomy
  • Radiation therapy in the head or neck

How can this be diagnosed?

Your otolaryngologist can determine if a person’s sense of smell or taste has been impaired through a simple test. The doctor may administer the smallest concentration of a chemical recognizable to humans while slowly increasing the amount. The doctor may then ask the patient to compare the smell or taste of a variety of chemicals and rate their intensity.

Is it possible to treat smell or taste loss?

When smell or taste loss is caused by medication, symptoms are improved when the medicine is discontinued. Medications like anti-allergy drugs can potentially improve the sense of taste or smell. Patients who experience dulled senses as a result of major respiratory illness or seasonal allergies will often regain sensation once their illness has subsided. If sensory loss is caused by nasal obstructions (such as polyps), often times they can be removed. When airflow is restored, this can correct loss of taste and smell. When smell and taste loss occurs spontaneously, senses can return to normal as suddenly as they disappeared.

If you are experiencing a loss of taste or smell, it is important to take stock of potential causes such as a recent cold or allergies. Determine the time frame when you first noticed a loss of sensation, and decide if it has been reoccurring. Contact your otolaryngologist with this information in order to receive a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.