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Q: sense of smell and taste ( Answered,   3 Comments )
Subject: sense of smell and taste
Category: Health
Asked by: grandpabill-ga
List Price: $15.00
Posted: 15 Oct 2002 17:30 PDT
Expires: 14 Nov 2002 16:30 PST
Question ID: 77044
I am 77 years old and for the past two months have been unable to
smell anything and this is accompanied by a loss of taste. What
procedures can I take to recover both senses? I have not had a stroke.
Subject: Re: sense of smell and taste
Answered By: crabcakes-ga on 15 Oct 2002 22:09 PDT

A little known and interesting fact is that 7% of the population in
India suffers from anosmia! Anosmia is the medical term for impaired
sense of smell. People with anosmia also have a limited sense of
taste, since smell enhances our perception of taste. So, you can see,
the two symptoms go hand in hand.

The causes of anosmia are many, and may be temporary. Temporary loss
of smell and taste may be caused by swelling of the nasal tissues,
which compromises the olfactory nerve. Permanent anosmia can be more
serious, and may be linked to olfactory nerve damage, strokes, and
brain damage. Anyone having a loss of smell and taste for more than a
few weeks should be evaluated by a medical doctor, preferably an ENT
(Ear, nose and throat specialist or otorhinolaryngologist). You said
you have not had a stroke, but TIA’s (mini-strokes) may go undetected,
and may cause anosmia. Have you seen your doctor about this problem?

“In most instances loss of smell is transient and smell returns once
the underlying condition clears or is treated. But if you have lost
your sense of smell for more that a couple of weeks it's important to
see your doctor to work out why.”

From a University of Connecticut site:
“In adults, the two most common causes of smell problems that we see
at our Center are: (1) Smell loss due to an ongoing process in the
nose and/or sinuses such as nasal allergies and (2) smell loss due to
injury of the specialized nerve tissue at the top of the nose (or
possibly the higher smell pathways in the brain) from a previous viral
upper respiratory infection. Individuals who lose their sense of smell
as a result of a respiratory virus generally give us a very clear
history of dating their smell loss from a time when they were
experiencing cold or flu symptoms. These patients are typically in the
older age groups. There is no known effective therapy for taste and/or
smell problems due to presumed viral damage. Specifically, treatment
with zinc is not recommended because it was not demonstrated  to be
any more effective than placebo. Some patients will recover function
with time. We have followed some individuals with this disorder
long-term. Of these, only 18% significantly improved their smell
function on retesting. Improvement was gradual. Although this low
improvement rate is discouraging, There are probably many individuals
out in the community who lost their sense of smell as a result of a
virus and recovered it within short periods of time. Some patients
report temporary improvement with medications, such as antibiotics or
corticosteroids. True taste loss does not occur, but patients
sometimes report the presence of foul tastes/smells. Other important
features include difficulty breathing through the nose, post nasal
drip, nasal allergies, and a history of sinusitis and/or nasal polyps.
Chronic sinusitis may present with smell loss and no other chronic
symptoms, however. ”

“More rarely, it is affected by nerve problems ranging from damage to
nerves in the nose, to damage to areas of the brain controlling smell
(such as from a stroke.) Perhaps the commonest cause of taste
problems, especially in the elderly, is problems in the mouth - with
teeth or saliva.
Any condition which results in a dry mouth can cause problems because
saliva is essential for taste. Chemicals in food or drink dissolve in
saliva and this bathes the tastebuds - in a dry mouth, the chemicals
never reach the tastebuds.
Anything which causes inflammation in the mouth can damage the taste
buds. Ill-fitting dentures or teeth and gums full of decay are some of
the major culprits. Smoking can also destroy taste.

Change in taste, especially loss of taste, is very common in elderly
people, and caused by a variety of things. Like most of our senses,
the sense of taste tends to decline with age as the taste buds
degenerate. Then problems which would cause a bit of a loss of taste
in younger people can wipe out what little remains in an older person.

"Sometimes these losses are gradual and people ...can't figure out
what's wrong," psychologist Susan Schiffman from her office at Duke
University Medical Center in Durham, N.C. "They know they're not
getting pleasure from food, and they'll blame it on something else,"
such as food not being as good as when they were young, Schiffman
Although some sensory loss is normal with age, loss of taste can come
especially from the effects of medicines, surgical procedures and
diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, she said.
An elderly person with one or more medical conditions who takes an
average of three medications needs 11 times as much salt and almost
three times as much sugar to detect those tastes in foods compared
with younger people, Schiffman said, citing her 1993 study.
Besides reducing interest in eating, which can lead to malnutrition,
loss of taste and smell can put elderly people at risk of food
poisoning because they might not be able to tell food has spoiled,
Schiffman said.

Primary causes of loss of smell/taste:
Nasal obstruction, such as polyps
Nerve damage
Natural aging
The common cold
Viral/bacterial infections
Zinc deficiency
Hormonal imbalance
Dental problems
Excessive use of nasal decongestants
Upper respiratory infection
Liver disease
Vitamin deficiencies
Heavy metal poisoning
Brain tumors

To actually diagnose the problem, your doctor will perform one or
several of the following tests:

Sinus CT Scan (CAT Scan)
Nasal cytology (Collect some cells from the nasal cavity)
Rhinomanometry (To measure nasal airflow and pressure)
Skin tests for allergies (RAST)
Nasal endoscopy (A small tube through the nose to check for disease /
Skull x-rays
Specific quantitative measurements of smell function
Sinus transillumination (a light is placed against the face to help
determine if the sinuses are filled with fluid. )

Scientists have also developed an easily administered
"scratch-and-sniff" test to evaluate the sense of smell

An anosmia algorithm (flow chart):


Quitting smoking may improve the smell function. Surgical correction
of physical blockages, if present may be the treatment you need. Avoid
excessive use of nasal decongestants. Zinc supplements are sometimes

It has been suggested by many sites, that people with impaired sense
of smell be sure to have several smoke detectors (As well as carbon
monoxide detectors), in good working order in their homes.

Electric stoves are preferred for anosmic patients. The following site
also recommends discarding leftovers, as one may  not be able to smell
spoiled food.
(Scroll down to middle of page)

As you can see, the potential causes of your problem are numerous.
Without proper medical care, there is no way to be sure what is
actually causing your impaired smell and taste. I urge you to visit
your doctor to diagnose and treat your problem. Hopefully, your doctor
will find a simple cause and remedy -- and if it should be something
more aggressive, it’s best to find and treat early!

Please note the above answer is for informational purposes only,and is
not intended to replace sound medical care by your personal physician.

If this answer is not clear, please ask for an answer clarification,
and I will make every effort to explain my answer further.


Search terms:
loss of smell
loss of taste
impaired smell taste
Subject: Re: sense of smell and taste
From: probonopublico-ga on 15 Oct 2002 23:00 PDT
Hi, Grandpabill

I've lost my sense of smell due to polyps in my nose. Went to the doc
'cos I thought I had a cold that wouldn't go away. She peeped up my
noise and voila, polyps everywhere.

Have since had a scan and consulatations with a specialist. Now due
for an operation but he can't guarantee that my sense of smell will
ever return.

Smells fishy to me.

Subject: Re: sense of smell and taste
From: probonopublico-ga on 30 Mar 2003 21:50 PST
Hi, Again, Grandpabill

Had the op in December and have suffered from various nasal infections
ever since, and I am still on medication.

HOWEVER, the Great News is that my sense of smell is coming back.

Kindest regards

Subject: Re: sense of smell and taste
From: katgo-ga on 27 Jan 2004 19:15 PST
Hi, I lost my sense of smell with sinus infection which turned out to
be partly due to polyps, which I had surgery in November 2003 to
correct---and my sense of smell returned on Christmas Day! after 5
months without it, I was beginning to doubt I would ever smell again,
and I was overjoyed to sniff again a rose or a chicken roasting!
Hoping you recover yours by now.....

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