Smell and Taste Problems

Humans are social and a large part of that sociability revolves around food, which is heavily dependent on taste and smell. Therefore, problems with taste and smell can seriously affect an individual's life.


Causes and Risk Factors

A range of factors affect our ability to taste and smell, including:

  • Age (sense of smell declines after age 60)
  • Gender (women generally can smell more accurately than men)
  • Upper respiratory infections
  • Injury or trauma to the head or nose
  • Polyps in the sinus or naval cavity
  • Hormonal disturbances
  • Dental problems
  • Tobacco smoke
  • Radiation therapy, especially for the head and neck

All of these factors can negatively impact the sense of taste and smell.


The sense of taste and smell can be tested by determining the smallest amount of a chemical that the patient can smell or taste. A simple "scratch-and-sniff" test is often used to test loss of the ability to smell. The patient can also be asked to compare the smell or taste of different chemicals to determine the type and extent of loss of taste or smell.


Treatment of the loss of the sense of smell or taste depends on a careful diagnosis of the underlying cause. If a medicine, such as an anti-allergy drug, is causing the loss of the ability to taste or smell, discontinuing the medicine, if possible, often leads to a restoration of the ability to smell or taste.

In some cases, especially those involving a respiratory infection or a seasonal allergy, the sense of taste and smell return after the disease has disappeared.

If nasal polyps are found to be the cause of the loss of the sense of smell or taste, their surgical removal usually restores the lost senses.