Taste and Smell Disorders

Taste Disorders

It is rare for patients to truly lose their sense of taste. More often a loss of taste — described as the inability to detect flavors of food — is mistaken for a loss of smell. However, true taste loss can occur after trauma, after certain infections, and as a secondary effect of some medical or surgical therapies. Many people suffer a persistent salty, bitter, metallic, or other unpleasant taste that is not necessarily associated with a taste loss. Sometimes this can be associated with a burning mouth or tongue.

Smell Disorders

The sense of smell, often taken for granted, is more integral to day-to-day living than most people realize. Without it, foods will still taste salty, sour, sweet, or bitter. But chocolate will seem no different than vanilla, and a grapefruit no different than an orange. The loss of smell can also raise safety concerns if patients are unable to smell a gas leak, for example, or something burning, or spoiled foods. The sense of smell can be lost for a variety of reasons. After an appropriate history and examination that includes testing to measure the sense of smell, the reason for the loss can usually be identified, leading to a prognosis and treatment.

Diagnostic Testing and Treatment for Taste and Smell Disorders

Scratch and Sniff Test

Developed by the University of Pennsylvania Smell & Taste Clinic, the scratch and sniff test is an easily administered, sensitive and reliable test used to detect smell disorders. The test uses different tastants such as sweet, sour, bitter and salt solutions to provide a whole mouth evaluation.


Sometimes, smell or taste disorders are caused by certain medications and often patients will notice improvement by simply changing medications or stopping altogether. While certain medications can lead to chemosensory problems, others—like anti-allergy drugs—can have the opposite affect by actually improving taste and smell senses.

In other cases, patients experiencing serious respiratory infections or seasonal allergies often regain their smell or taste once their illness has run its course.

Obstruction Removal

Often, loss of smell and taste can be corrected by restoring airflow to the receptor area through the removal of nasal obstructions like polyps. In other cases, chemosenses return to normal just as spontaneously as they were lost.

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