Pay attention if food suddenly does not taste right to you. There could be a common cause, and it’s possible that you and your doctor can fix it. Two of your senses collaborate when you eat. Your taste buds detect flavors, which include four basic ones: sweet, salty, sour, and bitter. At the same time, your sense of smell allows you to enjoy the aromas of the food. When either of these things goes wrong, your sense of taste may change.
When you enjoy your food, you are more likely to eat enough to maintain your health. And your sense of smell does more than allow you to enjoy flavors; and it warns you of hazards such as smoke from a fire. So it’s critical to determine why your sense of taste has changed or vanished.
Causes of Taste Bud Changes
Our taste buds are in charge of allowing us to enjoy the various flavors that the world has to offer. When our taste buds come into contact with food or other substances, the taste cells inside send messages to the brain that help us understand what we’re tasting. These taste cells collaborate with chemical and physical senses to produce “flavor.”
Changes in our taste buds can significantly impact how we perceive flavor, and foods can become bland and flavorless. Various factors, from infections to medications, can impair your perception of flavor, particularly through your taste buds.
1. Infections caused by Viruses or Bacteria
Upper respiratory infections, viral or bacterial, can cause nasal congestion and a runny nose. These symptoms can impair your sense of smell, influencing your taste perception.
Although it may appear that your taste buds have stopped working when you’re sick with a cold or the flu, your taste isn’t nearly as good without your sense of smell.
2. Medical Problems
Nervous system disorders affecting the nerves of the mouth or brain, such as Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis (MS), and Alzheimer’s disease, can alter taste perception. Furthermore, certain non-nervous system disorders, such as cancer, can alter taste perception – particularly during treatment.
Finally, any medical condition that affects the brain, nose, or mouth can change your taste buds.
Prescription medications can alter how your taste buds perceive flavors. Alternatively, they could inject various chemicals into your saliva.
If you take ACE inhibitors, your taste and smell may be off. These and other blood pressure medications can reduce your taste sensitivity and may also leave a metallic, bitter, or sweet aftertaste in your mouth.
Antidepressants, antihistamines, and other medications can make your mouth dry. Flavors are prevented from reaching your taste buds as a result.
Beta-blockers. These heart medications may impair your senses of taste and smell.
If your medications are causing you problems, your doctor may be able to switch you to a different medication.
If you have any of the following conditions, your taste may be affected:
3. Infections of the Nose, Throat, or Sinuses
A head injury that could affect the taste and smell nerves
A polyp or growth that obstructs your nasal passageway
You may have an abscess in your mouth or other dental issues. This can cause bad-tasting substances to enter your mouth, and dentures can cause issues.
A change in taste or smell can be an early sign of Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease in some people.
4. Cancer Therapy
Chemotherapy may interfere with your sense of taste if you are undergoing cancer treatment, and it affects the taste of roughly half of those who consume it.
Antibiotics, morphine, and other opioids can alter your sense of taste.
Radiation. It can harm your taste buds and the glands that produce saliva and impair your sense of smell.
When you eat, you may notice:
- Some foods taste different than they used to, and some are unappealing.
- Everything has the same flavor.
- You have a metallic aftertaste, particularly after eating meat or other protein.
Tell your medical team if any of this happens to you. It is an important part of their job to assist you with side effects like these. After your treatment, your taste should gradually return, usually within a month.
5. Deficiencies in Nutrients
Malnutrition can result in lacking certain vitamins and minerals required for the taste buds to function properly. Deficiencies in the following nutrients may cause taste loss:
- vitamin A
- vitamin B6
- vitamin B12
6. Damage to the Nerves
Taste bud function and flavor perception are controlled by nerves that run from the mouth to the brain. Any nerve damage along this pathway, whether caused by an injury or illness, can contribute to a change in your taste buds.
Some of the possible causes.
A reliable source of nerve damage that can impair your sense of taste is:
- infections in the ears
- dental procedures, ear surgery
- procedures involving the mouth
- facial nerve disorder
- brain injury
Our taste buds not only decrease in number as we age, but they also change in function. As we age, the 10,000 taste buds we were born with start to fade, and the remaining taste buds shrink in size and sensitivity, making taste perception more difficult.
As we age, we lose our sense of smell, decreasing our sense of taste. Furthermore, many of the illnesses and conditions we experience as we age – some of which have already been mentioned – can hurt our taste buds.
Flavor recognition can become more difficult as you age. In their 40s, some women may begin to lose their taste buds, and men can experience a change in their 50s.
Furthermore, your remaining taste buds may shrink and become less sensitive. Salty and sweet flavors are the first to fade, and you may find it more difficult to taste bitter or sour foods later in life.
Your sense of smell may also suffer. It is most powerful between the ages of 30 and 60. Then it begins to deteriorate, and some seniors eventually lose their minds.
You cannot restore your sense of taste as you age. But don’t assume that age is the only factor. You and your doctor should determine whether the underlying cause is treatable.
Smoking can also impair your sense of taste, among other negative long-term effects. Cigarette chemicals, such as carcinogens and alkaloids, can alter the receptors found in your taste buds.
Researchers investigated changes in taste perception in smokers who quit smoking in one 2017 Trusted Source study. At first, high nicotine dependence was associated with lower taste sensitivity in study participants. The researcher observed improvements in taste bud function in as little as two weeks as the study progressed.
How Frequently do they Change?
Taste perception is generally constant, barring illness, aging, or other causes. Adult taste bud regeneration, on the other hand, frequently occurs on both a cellular and functional level.
According to animal research trusted Source from 2006, our taste buds turnover every ten days, while further research Trusted Source from 2010 suggests that approximately 10% of the cells inside these taste buds turnover daily.
What About a Drastic Change?
A sudden change in taste or loss of taste can indicate an underlying medical condition. Some medical conditions that can cause an abrupt change in your taste perception to include:
- common cold
- sinus infection
- ear infection
- ear injury
- throat infection
- upper airway infection
- gum disease
- head injury
Most cases of a sudden loss of taste, such as an upper respiratory infection or the common cold, are minor and treatable at home. Certain viral or bacterial illnesses, on the other hand, can overwhelm the immune system in some cases. If you have difficulty eating, drinking, or breathing, you should seek medical attention as soon as possible.
How can it be Diagnosed?
Taste disorders are fairly common. Before the pandemic, more than 200,000 people in the United States Trusted Source went to the doctor every year to complain about difficulty tasting or smelling. According to some experts, 5% of Americans have dysgeusia, and nearly 1 in 5 Americans over the age of 40 have a change in their sense of taste.
Otolaryngologists are specialists who can diagnose and treat both smell and taste disorders. These doctors specialize in disorders of the ear, nose, and throat, as well as head and neck conditions.
The doctor may examine a person’s mouth or nose for growths, check their breathing, and look for other signs of infection. They will also review the individual’s medical history and inquire about drug use and potential exposure to toxic chemicals.
The doctor will also examine the patient’s mouth and teeth for disease and inflammation.
To aid in the diagnosis of taste loss, the doctor may apply certain chemicals directly to the individual’s tongue or mix them into a solution that they swish around in their mouth. A person’s reaction to these chemicals may determine the affected aspect of taste.
Identifying the type of sensory loss and underlying condition may take some time, but a correct diagnosis is an important step toward proper treatment.
How can Damaged Taste Buds be Repaired?
When an underlying medical condition causes damaged taste buds, we can treat the underlying condition to repair the taste buds. Antibiotics can treat bacterial infections, while rest at home can help with viral infections.
Treatment may not always restore taste buds’ function in more serious conditions, such as those that cause long-term nerve damage. Finally, recovery is determined by the extent of nerve damage and the body’s ability to repair it.
When medications cause taste loss, your doctor may choose to adjust or change your medication to alleviate this side effect.
How can it be Treated?
The treatment options will be determined by the underlying condition causing the loss of taste. Doctors usually wait until the infection has subsided in simple cases, such as those caused by the common cold or flu. Most people’s sense of taste should return once the illness has passed. However, evidence suggests that smell and taste problems may persist after SARS-CoV-2 infection, especially in cases of prolonged COVID.
While research is still inconclusive, a doctor may consider using olfactory training and topical corticosteroids if a person experiences post-viral olfactory dysfunction or smell and taste problems after a viral infection.
Antibiotics may be prescribed for people who have bacterial infections, such as sinus or middle ear infections.
More serious problems, such as nervous system disorders or head injuries, require an individualized treatment plan.
When Should you See a Doctor?
If you experience a sudden loss of taste and symptoms of a more serious condition, such as a head injury, mouth injury, stroke, or other nervous system condition, you should see a doctor. They can examine your medical history and, if necessary, perform additional diagnostic tests to determine the root cause.
What are Some Home Remedies?
In many cases, a person can improve their sense of taste by taking simple steps at home, such as:
improving dental hygiene through daily brushing, flossing, and use of medicated mouthwash
To reduce nasal inflammation, use over-the-counter antihistamines or vaporizers.
How can it be Prevented?
A loss of taste may not always be preventable, and some cases may result from underlying conditions that necessitate medical treatment. People can, however, try the following tips to reduce the risk of ageusia caused by infections:
- eating a healthy diet and staying hydrated
- getting enough rest
- Use proper hand washing technique
- wearing a face mask in public
- coping with stress
Taste bud changes can occur naturally as we age or as a result of a medical condition. Upper respiratory viral and bacterial illnesses are common causes of taste loss. Furthermore, many commonly prescribed medications can alter the function of the taste buds. A more serious underlying condition may be causing a change in taste perception in some cases.
See your doctor for further testing if you’ve noticed a change in your taste buds that you can’t explain or that won’t go away.