Have you lost your sense of Taste? - What You need to know about dysgeusia

Almost a fifth of us have problems with our sense of taste so dysgeusia can be very common. There are lots of taste receptors on the tongue and in the throat and a myriad of nerves that contribute to sense of taste and whether you have issues with it. How well you’re able to taste - and what you can taste - depends on the condition that this network of receptors and nerves is in. 

What kind of taste disorders are there?

Dysgeusia is an altered sense of taste but there are other specific conditions to consider too:

  • Hypogeusia refers to a diminished or reduced sense of taste.
  • Ageusia is where you lose your taste completely.
  • Phantogeusia affects people who are hallucinating a taste.
  • Aliageusia is where you eat a usually nice-tasting substance that then begins to taste unpleasant.

It’s worth noting that there is a difference between taste and flavour. Flavour is the combination of the taste and smell of food and involves the nose and the back of the throat. Taste is purely about a single sense and the five basic tastes that all humans are capable of detecting: salt, sweet, sour, bitter and umami. Sometimes, when we complain of losing our sense of taste we have actually lost our sense of smell, which makes us unable to properly enjoy flavour.

What happens when you lose your sense of taste?

It is usually the result of damage to the nerves that are responsible for taste - although, as a number of different nerves are involved every time it is actually quite unusual for someone to completely lose their sense of taste. For example, cranial nerve VII innervates the front of the tongue and the back of the tongue is innervated by cranial nerve IX. The palate and throat are innervated by the vagus nerve. These are the primary nerves responsible for the quality of taste that we are likely to enjoy. Because there are so many - there are also taste receptors in the nose but we have yet to identify how those play a role - it’s rare to completely lose your sense of taste as all three would need to be equally damaged.

What symptoms indicate dysgeusia?

Changes to your sense of taste indicate that there is a problem, for example food doesn’t taste salty, sweet etc like it used to or good-tasting food now tastes rotten. If you taste something even without eating or you’re noting a metallic taste to everything you eat, that is also a sign that something is wrong.

What causes dysgeusia?

There could be many different reasons for a condition like this, including:

  • Bacterial, viral or fungal infections.
  • Trauma or damage to the nerves.
  • Acid reflux.
  • Smoking.
  • Inflammation of the tongue.
  • Vitamin or mineral deficiencies.
  • Aging.
  • A dry mouth.
  • Medication side effects.
  • Metabolic disorders, such as diabetes.
  • Neurological disorders, such as Alzheimer’s.

If you are experiencing problems with your sense of taste then it could be dysgeusia. Depending on what’s causing this for you, there are a range of treatment options available.

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