What Loss of Taste Could Mean

Medically Reviewed By Meredith Goodwin, MD, FAAFP
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Loss of taste can indicate an interruption of the transfer of taste sensations to the brain. It may also indicate that there is a problem with how the brain interprets those sensations. Loss of taste is a common symptom of many conditions, including sinusitis, acid reflux, and COVID-19. The medical term for a complete loss of taste is “ageusia.” The medical term for a partial loss of taste is “hypogeusia.”

Usually, the compounds in the foods you eat activate your taste receptor cells. These cells then relay the information to your brain, allowing you to tell if food is salty, sour, sweet, or bitter. However, if you have ageusia, you cannot perceive taste.

If you have dysgeusia, you may experience an unpleasant taste. Others also report hypergeusia, which refers to a heightened sense of taste.

Although taste disorders are common, a complete loss of taste is rare.

This article discusses the possible causes and symptoms of loss of taste. It also covers diagnosing and treating it.

COVID-19

Woman eating breakfast on her patio
Ivan Gener/Stocksy United

COVID-19 disease can cause loss of smell and taste. These symptoms may come before any respiratory symptoms associated with the disease.

Other symptoms

COVID-19 can also cause:

  • a fever
  • a cough
  • tiredness

Treatment and prevention

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil) may reduce COVID-related fever. The CDC also reports that sufficient rest may speed up recovery.

For more serious cases of COVID-19, hospitalization may be required.

To prevent COVID-19, experts recommend wearing a face mask and maintaining physical distancing.

Seek immediate medical care if you experience a loss of taste alongside other serious symptoms.

Aging

Aging may also lead to a loss of taste. When this happens, food may taste bland and be less appealing, which could lead to malnutrition and weight loss.

Treatment and prevention

Although age is not a factor you can control, getting regular exercise and eating a nutritious diet can help keep you healthy as you age.

Poor oral hygiene

Poor oral hygiene can result in a loss of taste. Also, gum disease and infections in your mouth may interfere with your sense of taste.

Other symptoms

Poor oral hygiene can also lead to:

Treatment and prevention

Regularly using mouthwash, brushing your teeth, and flossing can help you maintain good oral hygiene.

Acid reflux

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), or acid reflux, is a common cause of loss of taste. GERD occurs when stomach acid regurgitates into the mouth, resulting in a loss of taste. The condition may also leave an acidic or metallic taste in the mouth.

Other symptoms

Acid reflux also causes:

Treatment and prevention

Your doctor may recommend antacids for mild symptoms or proton pump inhibitors to reduce the amount of acid your stomach produces. Your doctor may also recommend making certain changes to your lifestyle or diet.

Vitamin deficiencies

Certain vitamins and minerals, such as zinc, can affect your sense of taste. A nutrient deficient diet may eventually cause you to experience a loss of taste.

Other symptoms

Vitamin deficiencies can also result in:

Treatment and prevention

Your doctor may recommend eating more foods rich in vitamins and minerals, including fruits and vegetables.

Tobacco use

Regular tobacco use can negatively affect your sense of taste by reducing the amount of saliva your mouth produces and changing the size and shape of your taste buds.

Other symptoms

Using tobacco can also lead to:

Treatment and prevention

Avoiding tobacco is the best way to prevent symptoms.

Sinus infections

Sinusitis is inflammation or swelling of the sinuses. The sinuses are nasal passages that help you smell by draining the nose and keeping it clean.

Your nose plays a key role in your ability to taste. For this reason, if you experience a loss of smell due to nasal passage inflammation, you may also experience a loss of taste.

Other symptoms

Sinus infections can also cause:

Treatment and prevention

Treatments for sinusitis may include nasal sprays to relieve congestion and pain relievers such as ibuprofen. 

Preventive methods include washing your hands often and avoiding contact with people who may be sick.

Neurological conditions

Certain neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy, can affect your sense of taste.

Other symptoms

Neurological conditions may also lead to:

Treatment and prevention

Neurological conditions are not typically preventable. However, a doctor can help you manage your symptoms with medications and physical therapy

Sjögren’s disease

Sjögren’s disease is an autoimmune condition that causes the salivary glands to produce less saliva, which can affect your sense of taste.

Other symptoms

Sjögren’s disease can also give rise to:

Treatment and prevention

Currently, Sjögren’s disease is not curable or preventable. However, doctors may prescribe pilocarpine, which is a medication that can help boost your saliva production.

Cancer

According to the American Cancer Society, certain cancers may lead to loss of taste. Some treatments for cancer, such as chemotherapy, may also result in loss of taste.

Other symptoms

Cancer can also cause:

  • a painless lump
  • a cough
  • a fever

Treatment and prevention

Depending on your cancer diagnosis, you may receive targeted therapy or immunotherapy treatments. Your doctor will also work to reduce the side effects of these therapies.

When should I contact a doctor about loss of taste?

Talk with your doctor if your loss of taste is persistent or accompanied by other symptoms that concern you.

To treat your loss of taste, your doctor will focus on addressing the underlying condition.

If you have a bacterial infection, for example, your doctor may administer antibiotics. If it is COVID-19, they will discuss options such as over-the-counter medications or, in more serious cases, hospitalization. If it is a vitamin deficiency, your doctor may help you develop a healthy eating plan.

Diagnosis

To diagnose your condition, your doctor may ask you about the following: 

  • how long you have been experiencing the loss of taste
  • any medications you take
  • any other symptoms you have
  • the last time you visited a dentist
  • your history of tobacco use
  • your history of drug use
  • your exposure to toxic chemicals

Your doctor may also evaluate the behavior of your taste buds by asking you to taste a variety of substances and describing the sensation. This can reveal the nature and extent of your loss of taste.

It is important to follow the treatment plan that your healthcare professional provides for you to reduce your risk of the following potential complications:

  • dehydration
  • excessive weight loss
  • malnutrition
  • the spread of cancer
  • the spread of infection

Summary

Loss of taste may be complete or partial.

Many factors and circumstances can cause a loss of taste. These include COVID-19, poor oral hygiene, tobacco use, sinus infections, and aging.

Treating loss of taste depends on the underlying condition. Seek prompt medical care if your loss of taste is persistent or causes you concern.

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Medical Reviewer: Meredith Goodwin, MD, FAAFP
Last Review Date: 2022 Mar 31
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.