When flowers aren’t fragrant and spicy foods don’t zing, the senses may be impaired. But don’t assume that diminished senses of taste and smell are due to ageing, says the August issue of Mayo Clinic Women’s HealthSource. Many smell and taste disorders can be treated, or possibly reversed, depending on the underlying cause.
With a smelling disorder, patients may experience total or partial loss of smell. Or, one may "smell" bad odours that aren’t present. The sense of smell gradually declines with age. Often, the change is not noticeable. When smell disorders occur suddenly or are obvious, there’s likely a medical reason.
Causes can include upper respiratory infections, such as sinusitis; brain tumours; brain injury; nasal polyps; hormonal disturbances; or dental problems. Prolonged exposure to certain chemicals, such as insecticides, may impair smell. Some medications and medical treatments, such as radiation, also can affect smell. In some cases, a loss of smell can be an early sign of multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s disease.
Taste disorders are uncommon. When they occur, the reason could be some of the same conditions that cause impaired smelling. This includes upper respiratory infection, head injury, disease and some cancer treatments. Gum disease is another possible cause. Medications, including cholesterol-lowering drugs, antibiotics, blood-pressure medications, antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs are the most frequent cause of diminished taste or even a bad taste in the mouth.
Diagnostic tests can measure the extent of smell and taste disorders and help identify the causes. Treatment is focused on the underlying cause. Occasionally, it’s possible to have a spontaneous recovery, which occurs when damaged smell or taste nerves regenerate.
(Source: Mayo Clinic: Mayo Clinic Women’s HealthSource: August 2009)