Have You Lost The Ability To Taste and Smell Foods?
By Pierre Mouchette | Bits-n-Pieces
From freshly baked bread to fragrant flowers, the sense of smell adds richness to our daily lives. So, it can be unsettling when your sense of smell changes. For many, losing the sense of smell (anosmia) or taste (ageusia) brings to mind COVID-19. While this can be the first sign of a COVID-19 infection, many conditions can affect your sense of smell or taste.
Changes in smell and taste sensation are more common than most people realize. Almost one in four people in the U.S. over 40 report changes in their sense of smell, and one in five experience a change in their sense of taste. While it might sound simple enough, it can be tricky to tell the two apart and even harder to know what to do about it.
Can loss of taste or smell be something other than COVID?
Yes, many conditions can cause a loss of taste or smell, not just COVID-19. Whatever the cause, the reason for losing the sense of taste or smell has to do with abnormalities in the nose or tongue surfaces or the nerves supplying those surfaces. Fortunately, the most common causes of loss of smell and taste usually get better with time.
The following are items other than COVID that can cause a loss of taste and smell:
Viruses that cause cold and flu - Viruses that cause the common cold and the flu (influenza) infect humans through the nose and mouth. These upper respiratory infections cause swelling in the nose. They can even damage the lining of the nose to the point where some people lose their sense of smell for years. However, most people eventually recover. People generally regain their sense of smell and taste once the infection has resolved.
Allergies - If you have ever had pollen, pets, or dust allergies, you will have noticed how similar these symptoms feel to a cold. Sneezing, runny nose, and congestion can all lead to issues with smell. The longer you have had allergies and the more severe your symptoms are, the more likely you are to have a loss of smell. Typically, allergies cause sneezing, congestion, and a cough, but they do not cause fever or body aches.
Nasal polyps - People with allergies may also have nasal polyps, noncancerous growths that develop in the nose or sinus. Similar to allergies, any swelling in your nose will affect how you can smell. Aspirin, sinus infections, and asthma are also linked to nasal polyps.
Tobacco products - Smoking affects your lungs and increases your risk of death from COVID-19 infection. Smoking can affect your sense of smell and taste and also increase your risk of developing nasal polyps, making it even harder to smell. Other tobacco products, such as vaping and chewing tobacco, can also affect how you smell or taste as well.
Medications - Most people have taken ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) for aches or pains. But did you know that these medications can affect your sense of taste? Some of the most commonly used medicines in the U.S., including levothyroxine, metformin, zolpidem, and more, can affect your sense of taste or smell. Keep in mind that these medications may not just decrease your sense of taste or smell but may change it altogether, like the metallic taste you can experience when taking lithium. Sometimes, what affects your sense of taste is not a specific drug; instead, it is from taking multiple medications at once. Chemotherapy and radiation treatments for cancer can also affect how you smell or taste.
Neurological causes - The act of smelling and tasting happens thanks to nerves from the brain that are connected to the nose or tongue. If an underlying health condition affects these nerves or the parts of the brain that control smell and taste sensations, then there is a high chance that your sense of taste or smell could be harmed.
Neurologic conditions that can affect your sense of taste or smell include:
How long does loss of taste and smell last?
Being unable to smell or taste like you used to can be frustrating. Tasting your favorite foods and smelling fresh air makes life more enjoyable. And also, the ability to smell harmful fumes can protect you from danger. So, it is natural to feel anxious and wonder when your sense of smell and taste will return. Briefly, it depends mainly on the cause. If your loss of taste or smell is caused by a virus for the cold, flu, or COVID-19, most cases will last for one to two weeks. In rare cases, it can last up to a few years.
Treating allergies or nasal polyps may get you back to smelling like you used to. But that is not true for everyone. It depends on how severe your case is. When you lose smell or taste sensations after head trauma, you usually recover those senses within a couple of months. But sometimes, those sensations never return. The loss of smell or taste that is least likely to resolve with time is from progressive neurological disorders or age. While symptoms may improve, your sense of smell and taste might never return to what it was before.
Remember that there are unknown causes of problems with smell or taste. That can make it hard to tell how long your symptoms might last. To make things more confusing, some people get their sense of taste and smell back without treatment. Your health care provider can help you determine your symptoms and recommend the best treatment options.
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