Smell and Taste Disorders
What is the frequency of taste and smell disorders?
260 million people is living in USA. According to an investigation more than 2 million people suffer from that. Every year two hundred housand people admit to doctors because of smell and taste problems.
Is it serious?
These are very nice and warning feelings. They warn us against fire, toxic gases, spoiled foods. Smell problems can occur in sinus problems, polyps, tumors in nose or in brain. These feelings are upmost important for people who work in fire and cook industry.
How smell and taste are felt?
These belong to our chemical feelings. Chemical materials around us stimulates our mouth and nose. Nerve endings are stimulated and tranfer them to the brain where they are evaluated.
Smell nerve endings are located at the top of the nose. It is seperated from the brain by a very thin bone.
Foods and drinks are mixed up with saliva and stimulates taste receptors found in tongue, mouth and pharynx. They are send to brain.
These are the only nerves that are renewed after trauma or with aging.
There is also a third chemical feeling system present. This is called “general feeling system”. Thousands of nerves found in eye, mouth and nose can feel the “ammonnium, menthol and red pepper”.
We can seperate the taste as mainly four feelings: Sweet, sour, bitter and salty. There are combinations of these tastes that we taste in our foods.
You can recognise many subjects from their smells. If you close your nose while eating chocolate you can feel the sweet and bitter taste but you can get difficulty to name it as chocolate. This is because chocolate’s taste and smell are recognised together. Coffee is the same. If you notice that experienced cookers smell the food before they taste.
What causes smell and taste disturbances?
Main problem is decrease in smell function after 60 years old. Scientists find that smelling capability is highest between 30-60. After 60 this decreases and many older people lost it. But women are more sensitive to smell in any age.
Some people are born with smell and taste disorders. But main reason is trauma and after diseases. Upper respiratory problems are mostly blamed but head injuries with fractures are also responsible.
Disorders can be caused by polyps in the nose or by hormonal and teeth problems. It can be seen in people who are exposed to insect drugs and some other drugs for a long time.
Smoking is the commonest agent in air pollution that humans get into contact with. It can cause disturbances in smell and taste efficiency, but this is a slow process. An example if a person smokes two packages of cigarettes a day, should quit as long as he/she smokes to return his/her original taste and smell feeling.
Radiation therapy to head and neck region is another cause for taste and smell disorders.
If vocal cords and/or trachea is resected in cancer patients they suffer from taste and smell disorders. If they return to nasal breathing then they feel taste and smell again. This shows how nasal breathing is important in smell and taste.
How are smell and taste disorders diagnosed?
Different streght of odor and foods are given to the patients. The lowest concentration that person feels is detected. Also different taste and odors are tested to see if they can differ them.
Can taste and smell disorders be treated?
Sometimes drugs can be the reason and if stop taking that drug, problem resolves.
Some drugs can cause disturbance but some drugs especially antiallergic drugs increases the sensitivity of smell and taste.
Heavy upper respiratory infections can decrease smell and taste temporarily. If reasons for obstruction in nose are treated it helps smell and taste. Rarely spontaneous remissions can occur.
What can I do for myself?
Try to differentiate your problem. When did you first realize it? Did you have previous upper respiratory infection? Did you have head trauma? Are you allergic and have a blocked nose?
Is it a recurring problem? Is there a special season for it?
Take these informations to ear, nose, throat doctor. Do not forget to tell if you have any other disease(s) or drug(s) that you use. The reason may surprise you. You think you have a taste problem but it may come up as a smelling problem.
Diagnosis starts the treatment. Many taste and smell problems are reversible. But if your problem is permanent, you may feel better to know that you are not certainly alone.