Surprisingly, the sense of smell had a large impact on our ability to taste. In fact, when we talk about taste, we’re really talking about smell because much of our experience of the “taste” of food is actually what we smell.
If the sense of smell or taste is lost or diminished, it can have a significant impact on the quality of life. More importantly, it can also be a sign of an underlying disease. Smell disorders are also serious because they damage the early warning system that can alert a person to such things as:
Spoiled food and beverages
The loss of the senses of smell (anosmia) and taste (ageusia) are the most common chemosensory disorders. The reduced ability to smell (hyposmia) or to taste sweet, sour, bitter or salty substances (hypogeusia) are also common.
Causes of Smell and Taste Disorders
Abnormalities in taste and smell can accompany or indicate the existence of diseases or conditions, such as:
Degenerative diseases of the nervous system, such as:
A smell and taste disorder can be caused by:
Illness (for example, upper respiratory infection, sinus infection and allergies)
Injury to the head
Dental, oral, or perioral problems
Exposure to certain chemicals
Exposure to radiation therapy for head or neck cancer
Over-the-counter and prescription medications
Intranasal cocaine inhalation
Diagnosis of Smell and Taste Disorders
In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures may include:
Measuring the lowest concentration of a chemical that a person can recognize
Comparing tastes and smells of different chemicals
"Scratch and sniff" tests
"Sip, spit and rinse" tests where chemicals are directly applied to specific areas of the tongue
Treatment for Smell and Taste Disorders
Specific treatment for smell and taste disorders is determined based on the extent of the disorder, your age, overall health and medical history, as well as your tolerance for specific medications, procedures or therapies.
Treatment may include:
Stopping or changing medications that contribute to the disorder
Correction of the medical problem that is causing the disorder
Surgical removal of obstructions that may be causing the disorder
What You Should Expect
You will receive a thorough diagnostic examination to evaluate if you have a smell or taste disorder and determine what course of treatment is needed. Careful monitoring and the involvement of an experienced otolaryngologist are important to the successful outcome for patients with ear, nose and throat disorders and conditions.
The day of surgery, you will be taken care of in the operating room by otolaryngologist, anesthesiologists and nurses who specialize in surgery for patients with smell or taste disorders. After surgery, you will go to the post-surgical care unit where you will receive comprehensive care by experienced surgical and nursing staff.
Brigham and Women’s Hospital provides a multidisciplinary approach to patient care by collaborating with colleagues who have extensive experience in diagnosing and treating ear, nose and throat disorders and conditions. In addition, patients have full access to BWH’s world-renowned academic medical community, with its diverse specialists, and state-of-the-art facilities.
Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery Appointments and Locations