The senses of taste and smell enable us to enjoy food and beverages, enhance our sense of wellbeing and warn us if food is unsafe to eat. Regaining some or all of these senses may be a welcome relief following an illness or injury, so it is important to understand the science behind how we taste and smell.
Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all approach for restoring the senses completely. However, there are ways that individuals with impaired taste or smell can take action to improve the overall accuracy and intensity of these senses. In this article, we will explore the causes of diminished sense of taste and smell, as well as ways that people can work towards restoring their individual abilities.
Causes of Loss of Taste and Smell
Experiencing a loss of taste and smell can be a disheartening experience, particularly as we all need to enjoy food to survive and it can be difficult to motivate yourself to do so without an appreciation for the flavours. It is important to investigate the potential causes of the loss to be able to find the most effective treatment.
Let’s look into the causes of the loss of taste and smell:
A common cold is one of the most common causes of temporary smell and taste loss. It occurs when inflammation in the nasal cavity affects the mucous membranes and reduces their ability to detect chemicals in foods. This condition is referred to as anosmia and will often resolve itself within a few days. However, it can sometimes lead to further health complications such as sinusitis or a sinus infection.
To help regain your sense of smell, you should:
- Drink plenty of fluids
- Rest if it’s accompanied by fever or cold symptoms
- Avoid cold air and smoke exposure
- Eat strong-smelling foods such as spices, citrus fruits, garlic, onions and gingery may also help stimulate your senses after you’ve recovered from the cold.
If symptoms persist beyond two weeks, you should see a doctor to determine if there is an underlying cause that needs to be treated such as ear infection or polyps in the nose that should be removed with surgery.
A sinus infection, also known as sinusitis, can cause the temporary loss of taste and smell. Sinus infections occur when the sinuses become inflamed and blocked, allowing bacteria to grow more easily and spread infection. The inflammation in your nose and throat can reduce your sense of smell, leading to a decreased sense of taste because your ability to taste is linked to your ability to smell.
Chronic sinusitis may cause a general decrease in your senses over time. Perforated eardrums, nasal polyps and adenoid hypertrophy are some medical conditions that can accompany a sinus infection and lead to issues with taste and smell. In cases such as these, it’s advisable that you seek medical attention right away in order to prevent any further damage or permanent loss of sensation in those areas.
In addition to allergies and the common cold, several other diseases can cause the loss of taste or smell including Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. It’s important to talk with your doctor if you are experiencing any difficulty with these senses as it can be an early warning sign of something more serious such as cancer or another health issue.
Allergies are one of the most common causes of a loss of taste and smell. Allergic rhinitis (hay fever) is an allergic condition that can cause congestion in the nose, leading to impaired smell while potentially blocking taste buds. Pollen, dust mites, animals and medications (such as antidepressants or those used to treat high blood pressure) are among the allergens that can cause seasonal allergies and worsen existing allergies. People with food allergies may experience numbness or tingling in their mouth and nasal passages, which may also lead to a loss of taste or smell.
In addition, allergies can trigger non-allergic rhinitis, which can cause inflammation and irritation of the nasal passage due to exposure to irritants such as perfumes, smoke or alcohol. This can lead to impaired sense of smell or taste for a few days before returning back to normalcy when the irritant is removed from the environment.
If you think your allergy symptoms may be causing your lost senses, consult your doctor for testing and appropriate treatment options such as:
- Elimination diets
There are a wide range of medications that can lead to taste and smell problems. Many medications can cause taste and smell disturbances, although the exact mechanism is unknown. Common classes of medications linked to these side effects include antibiotics, antidepressants, anticonvulsants, anti-inflammatories, antihistamines, antihypertensives and chemotherapy drugs.
Infections like the common cold or even more serious illnesses such as meningitis can also cause taste and smell disturbances. Other factors like age-related changes in taste sensitivity and nutritional deficiencies may also play a role.
Examples of prescription medications that may cause taste and smell impairment include:
- ACE inhibitors (ACEIs)
- Clonazepam (Klonopin)
- Lamotrigine (Lamictal)
- Quetiapine Fumarate (Seroquel)
- Olanzapine (Zyprexa)
- Isotretinoin (Accutane)
It’s important to talk with your doctor if you think any of your medications are causing taste or smell disturbances as they may be able to adjust the dosage or find a better alternative medication that won’t have the same effect on your senses.
As we age, our sense of taste and smell naturally decreases. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), about 25% of people over the age of 60 will experience a decrease in taste/smell perception. In many cases, medical experts believe that it is not a true decrease in the ability to perceive smells, but rather an increase in the threshold level at which someone perceives certain smells and tastes.
The primary cause of this phenomenon is the gradual loss of taste buds and olfactory receptor neurons over time. Our bodies are constantly regenerating different parts of our sensory system, including these areas responsible for tasting and smelling. As we get older, however, some areas may not regenerate as quickly or fully as they once did. In addition, a dry mouth due to decreased saliva production can also contribute to diminished sense of taste and smell.
There are circumstances when loss of taste/smell have been caused by:
- Chronic diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s
- Other conditions such as head injuries or anticholinergic medications taken for depression or bladder control issues.
- People with chronic diseases like lupus and diabetes can experience changes in their senses which seems linked to medications taken for issues turned up by testing.
There are a few home remedies that can help you get your taste and smell back. Whether you’re dealing with an upper respiratory infection or long-term issue, such as anosmia, there are options available to you. In this article, we’ll look at some natural remedies that can help you regain your sense of taste and smell:
- Herbal teas.
- Essential oils.
- Apple cider vinegar.
- Cayenne pepper.
Steam inhalation is a simple and safe home remedy for restoring lost taste and smell. It involves breathing in steam from boiling water with added drops of essential oil. This method can help open nasal passages, clear nasal congestion and break down mucus that could be blocking the sense of smell. It can also improve asthma symptoms, reduce congestion, and moisturize the respiratory tract.
To do steam inhalation, fill a bowl or a basin with hot boiling water. Add 1-2 drops of an essential oil such as eucalyptus or peppermint oil to the water for additional benefits. Place your face over the container at least 10-15 cm away from the surface of the water and cover both your head and bowl with a large towel to create a tent-like effect. Breathe in deeply through your mouth and nose for 3 -5 minutes before taking a break. Do this occasionally throughout the day until you restore your smell or taste sensation back to normal levels.
Apple cider vinegar
Apple cider vinegar has long been used in traditional medicine for its medicinal properties and antibiotic qualities. It is prepared by fermenting apples in water and then adding volume of isopropanol. The vinegar contains several natural ingredients, such as potassium, magnesium, calcium and phosphorus that can be used to treat a variety of common ailments such as colds, the flu, headaches and skin conditions. Apple cider vinegar has a very strong taste, so it should be diluted with water before consuming or applying it to the body.
In traditional medicine, apple cider vinegar has been considered to have a variety of health benefits. Research suggests that drinking diluted apple cider vinegar may help control blood sugar levels. Additionally, some studies suggest that apple cider vinegar can improve digestion and reduce bad cholesterol due to its acetic acid content. There is also evidence that using this remedy topically may reduce the bacteria responsible for skin infections and acne breakouts.
When using apple cider vinegar on your skin or internally for health purposes, make sure you buy organic unfiltered varieties as these are richer in nutrients than filtered varieties which have typically been filtered and pasteurized for food safety purposes. Ingesting too much apple cider vinegar can cause throat burn or damage teeth enamel over time; therefore it’s important to always mix with equal parts water before drinking or applying topically to your skin or hair.
Zinc supplements may be beneficial for restoring lost taste and smell due to viral infection. Zinc is an essential mineral required for taste and smell functions in the body. There is evidence that zinc supplementation can help restore senses of taste and smell in those who have lost them due to viral infections such as COVID-19.
However, supplements should be used with caution and under the guidance of a healthcare professional, since prolonged intake of zinc can cause toxicity. It is important to consult with your physician or pharmacist prior to taking any zinc supplements.
Hot and cold compresses
Hot or cold compresses are both beneficial for resetting your taste buds. For a cold compress, take a cloth and wet it with cold water or put it in the freezer for several minutes before using. Place the cloth over your nose and mouth for several minutes, breathing deeply. This can help reduce inflammation and reset your senses of taste and smell.
Alternatively, you can opt for a hot compress if you prefer. Prepare a cloth in warm to hot water or microwave it for 30 seconds (make sure not to oversaturate the cloth). Place this compress over your face and nose, taking deep breaths to allow some of the steam released to enter your nasal passages. Over time, this should help unblock any stuck mucus particles and reduce nasal congestion which may be contributing to the dulled sensation of smell or lack thereof.
Essential oils may help you restore your sense of smell and taste when lost due to colds or other illnesses, as well as due to some medications. They can also boost digestion and help in the respiratory system to clear congestion. It is important to note that, for safety considerations, you should not mix essential oils for medical purposes unless advised by a qualified medical professional. Below are different types of essential oils that may be used for this purpose:
- Peppermint oil: Its menthol aroma is refreshing and energizing, providing relief from headaches and restoring the sense of smell/taste.
- Lemon oil: Possessing a light yet powerful citrus scent, this oil helps in clearing the nasal passages while relaxing the mind and body.
- Basil oil: The sweet aromatic scent works on the mind helping lessen mental fatigue and stress which can block adequate food intake.
- Ginger oil: With its spicy warming nature, ginger can assist with appetite stimulation aiding in better nourishment intake when recovering from a virus.
- Eucalyptus oil: For centuries it has been used in alleviating congestion relieving breathing difficulties while improving gustatory perception.
Losing your taste and smell can be frightening and disorienting, but there are a variety of medical treatments available to help you regain your senses. From medications to lifestyle changes, these treatments can help you get your taste and smell back.
In this article, we will discuss the various medical treatments that are available to help restore your taste and smell:
Antibiotics can be used to treat bacterial or fungal infections that may be causing loss of taste and smell. For bacterial or fungal infections, antibiotics usually need to be taken for a period of 7-14 days. Your doctor may prescribe oral antibiotics such as penicillin, metronidazole, amoxicillin, clindamycin, erythromycin or azithromycin. Alternatively, your doctor may administer intravenous antibiotics such as vancomycin for more serious cases of infection. Side effects of taking antibiotics include nausea and diarrhea.
Steroid medications such as prednisone may also be prescribed for the treatment of autoimmune diseases such as Sjogren syndrome or sarcoidosis which can cause decreased sense of taste and smell. These medications tends to be taken from 1 week to 3 months depending on the severity. Side effects include weight gain, mood swings and insomnia.
Decongestants are medications used to relieve the symptoms of nasal congestion. Decongestants reduce swelling in the blood vessels in your nose, improving airflow and allowing you to breathe more easily. Decongestants can come as pills, liquids and nasal sprays.
Decongestant pills, liquids and sprays work by narrowing the blood vessels and reducing inflammation in your nose so they pass through easier. This effect can last anywhere from 8-12 hours after taking a decongestant. For best results it’s recommended to take them on a regular basis each day until your symptoms have dissipated and you feel normal again.
Depending on your level of taste or smell loss, a doctor may recommend different types of decongestants such as:
- Over-the-counter nasal sprays
- Oral tablets
- Topical nasal aerosols (such as Afrin®).
It’s important to not use these products for more than five days as prolonged use could cause rebound congestion which worsens over time if not managed properly. If you are using an over-the-counter decongestant for more than five days without any success, it’s important to consult with a doctor for further advice or treatment considerations.
Antihistamines are commonly used to treat a variety of conditions, including allergies and colds, as they help reduce the amount of histamines released in the body. They work by blocking the effects of histamine, which produce several common symptoms related to taste and smell loss.
Commonly used antihistamines include loratadine (Claritin), cetirizine (Zyrtec) and fexofenadine (Allegra). H1-antihistamine drugs are known as sedating antihistamines because they cause drowsiness as a side effect. Allergic rhinitis is one of the most common triggers that lead to taste and smell changes, therefore treating this condition with an antihistamine will usually improve your chances for getting back full taste and smell sensations.
It is important to note that an effective treatment plan may include other forms such as decongestants or nasal steroids depending on your individual condition. Discussing your concerns with your healthcare provider or pharmacist can provide valuable insights on which medications can be combined for optimal benefits in treating taste and smell loss due to sinus related issues or allergies.
Steroid nasal sprays
Steroid nasal sprays are medications used in treating allergies, colds and other nasal problems that can impact taste and smell. These sprays reduce inflammation in the nasal passages, and they are known as corticosteroid or glucocorticosteroid medications. Depending on the severity of the lack of taste and smell symptoms, steroid nasal sprays may help to improve both.
Steroid nasal sprays can be purchased over-the-counter (OTC) or by prescription, depending on the diagnosis of your health care provider. OTC versions such as Flonase®, Nasacort®, Rhinocort® or Fluticasone Propionate are considered first-line treatments for hay fever, allergic rhinitis, colds and other seasonal allergies. Prescription steroidal sprays include products such as Beconase AQ® and Nasonex®.
When using a steroidal spray, it is important to read directions carefully prior to use in order to maximize effectiveness and avoid side effects. It may take over a week before any relief is experienced with regular use, but ultimately this should help improve taste and smell. When using these products excessively however it could paradoxically worsen symptoms thereof. If traditional methods do not provide relief, consulting a health care provider may be necessary for further evaluation and treatment options that specialize in addressing taste/smell loss more directly.
Pre-empting a loss of taste or smell is key to avoiding it. There are a few things you can do to reduce your chances of losing your sense of taste and smell. These include:
- Avoiding smoking
- Eating a healthy diet
- Managing stress
- Maintaining good oral hygiene
- Staying hydrated
In this section, we will look at these preventative measures in more detail.
Since some triggers can be difficult to avoid, it’s important to take steps to prevent your taste and smell loss from happening in the first place. An important way of preventing taste and smell loss is avoiding triggers that can sometimes cause these senses to decline. Common triggers include:
- Substances like alcohol, tobacco, and certain medications.
- Colds and other illnesses.
- Chemical irritants such as pollution or paint fumes.
- Head trauma or injury.
- Vitamin B12 deficiency or other nutrient deficiencies.
- Radiation therapy.
You should also make sure to eat a healthy diet that contains ample vitamins and minerals, especially Vitamin B12. It is also important to practice good hygiene habits, such as regularly washing your hands with warm water and soap in order to avoid upper respiratory infections. Additionally, avoid exposing yourself to chemical fumes for extended periods of time. If you are using a product with an odor and find that your sense of smell has diminished shortly after, move away from the source immediately.
Eating a balanced diet
Eating a balanced diet is one of the most important ways to maintain good health, and this is especially true if you have lost your sense of taste or smell. Eating a variety of healthy foods can help ensure your body gets the nutrients it needs. Make sure to include plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and low-fat dairy products.
You may want to consider taking a multivitamin each day for additional nutrients, particularly if you are not able to eat certain foods due to taste or smell loss.
In addition, avoid secondhand smoke and limit your intake of alcohol as these both can interfere with your ability to taste and smell. Finally, if you are having difficulty eating due to taste or smell loss, speak with a dietitian who can create an individualized meal plan for you that takes into account both your nutritional needs as well as any dietary restrictions that need to be observed.
Practicing good hygiene
Practicing good hygiene through frequent handwashing with soap and water is a key step in preventing the spread of infection, which can lead to diminished taste or smell. You should be sure to wash your hands frequently and thoroughly, especially after coming into contact with saliva and respiratory droplets, such as those expelled during coughing and sneezing. Additionally, if you’re going out in public, wear a face mask to help protect yourself from inhaling any potentially-contaminated aerosols. Also be sure to follow social distancing guidelines by staying at least six feet away from other people as much as possible.
It is also important to practice proper food and beverage safety measures by avoiding consuming foods or beverages that may have been contaminated by someone else’s saliva or respiratory secretions, including sharing utensils or drinking straws. If you are preparing meals for others (or for yourself), make sure that all of your kitchen supplies are cleaned between uses. Make it a habit to rinse fruits and vegetables before you consume them, as well as using separate cutting boards for uncooked meats and other food items that are ready-to-eat. It is important to remember that drinking alcohol can weaken the immune system and increase your risk of contracting illness; keep in mind how much you’re consuming on a regular basis too!
Wearing a face mask
Wearing a face mask is an effective way to prevent exposure to air pollutants and other airborne contaminants that may cause taste or smell disturbance. A well-fitting mask can help protect the wearer from inhaling harmful environmental irritants, such as dust and smoke particles; volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as formaldehyde, benzene, and other chemicals found in decoration materials and furnishings; mold spores; pollen; and other polluting agents. Furthermore, wearing a face mask helps reduce the spread of droplets that contain viruses, bacteria and other infectious agents.
While any face covering should help protect against air pollution, medical-grade masks work best. These masks have undergone rigorous testing to make sure they fit securely over your nose and mouth. N95 respirator masks are designed with multiple layers of filtration material which prevent dangerous particles from entering the respiratory system during moments of physical activity or prolonged exposure to hazardous substances. Disposable surgical masks provide a minimum level of protection against large droplets but are not intended for everyday use as they do not effectively filter small particles like dust.
Additionally, you should take special care when using reusable cloth masks to ensure they are washed correctly after each use in order to maintain hygienic conditions and maximum performance level. When fitted properly – covering both your nose and mouth –and combined with frequent hand washing or sanitizing, wearing a face mask is an effective way to reduce your risk of infection as well as regain your sense of taste or smell if it was disturbed by airborne pollutants or allergens.
In conclusion, regaining your sense of taste and smell is possible. Although for some people, it may take weeks or months before their senses are back to normal. Using tactics such as home remedies, controlled odor exposure therapy, and dietary changes can help speed up the recovery process.
In cases where there is no improvement in the loss of smell and taste, it is important to consult with a doctor as soon as possible so that you can investigate any underlying causes such as sinus infections or serious illnesses.