Taste impairment means there is a problem with your sense of taste. Problems range from distorted taste to a complete loss of the sense of taste. A complete inability to taste is rare.
The tongue can detect sweet, salty, sour, savory and bitter tastes. Much of what is perceived as "taste" is actually smell. People who have taste problems often have a smell disorder that can make it hard to identify a food's flavor. (Flavor is a combination of taste and smell.)
Taste problems can be caused by anything that interrupts the transfer of taste sensations to the brain. It can also be caused by conditions that affect the way the brain interprets these sensations.
The sensation of taste often decreases after age 60. Most often, salty and sweet tastes are lost first. Bitter and sour tastes last slightly longer.
Causes of impaired taste include:
Other causes are:
Follow your health care provider's instructions. This may include changes to your diet. For taste problems due to the common cold or flu, normal taste should return when the illness passes. If you smoke, stop smoking.
Call your provider if your taste problems do not go away, or if abnormal tastes occur with other symptoms.
The provider will perform a physical exam and ask questions, including:
If the taste problem is due to allergies or sinusitis, you may get medicine to relieve a stuffy nose. If a medicine you are taking is to blame, you may need to change your dose or switch to a different drug.
A CT scan or MRI scan may be done to look at the sinuses or the part of the brain that controls the sense of smell.
Reviewed By: Josef Shargorodsky, MD, MPH, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.