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Smell and Taste Disorders

There are many smell and taste disorders characterized by either a loss or partial loss of the ability to taste and smell. In some cases, taste or smell disorders may cause you to experience smells or tastes that you once enjoyed as unenjoyable instead.

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We offer leading-edge treatments for smell and taste disorders, including olfactory training—retraining the remaining smelling nerves to learn to smell the full spectrum of odors even after damage from injury or infection. Our physicians are researching even more effective treatments for smell disorders. We are also world-renowned experts in chronic sinusitis, one of the leading causes of decreased sense of smell.

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Our Allergy & Sinus experts are global leaders in diagnosing and treating conditions of the nose and sinuses. From pioneering new procedures to helping write national treatment guidelines, our physicians are known around the world for their innovation and research in this subspecialty.

To schedule an appointment, please call the UC Health Allergy & Sinus team at 513-475-8400.

About This Condition

Understanding Smell and Taste Disorders

What are smell and taste disorders?

The most common smell and taste disorders are:

  • Anosmia. Loss of sense of smell.

  • Ageusia. Loss of sense of taste.

  • Hyposmia. Reduced ability to smell.

  • Hypogeusia. Reduced ability to taste sweet, sour, bitter, or salty things.

  • Phantosmia. Smelling an odor that is not actually present.

In other disorders, odors, tastes or flavors may be misread or changed. They may cause you to get a bad odor or taste from something that is normally pleasant to smell or taste. These disorders can affect the quality of life. They may also be a sign of an underlying disease.

Problems with taste and smell may be signs of certain health problems, such as:

  • Obesity.

  • Diabetes.

  • High blood pressure.

  • Poor nutrition.

  • Nervous system diseases such as:

    • Parkinson’s disease.

    • Alzheimer’s disease.

    • Multiple sclerosis.

What causes smell and taste disorders?

Some people are born with these disorders. But most are caused by:

  • Illness, such as cold or flu, sinus infection, and allergies.

  • Head injury.

  • Hormone changes.

  • Dental or mouth problems.

  • Nasal polyps.

  • Exposure to certain chemicals.

  • Certain medicines.

  • Exposure to radiation therapy for head or neck cancer.

  • Cocaine snorted through the nose.

  • Cigarette smoking.

What are the symptoms of smell and taste disorders?

Symptoms can vary. Some people may not be able to smell or taste anything. Others may have a reduced ability to smell or taste certain things that are sweet, sour, bitter, or salty. In some cases, normally pleasant tastes or smells may become unpleasant.

How are smell and taste disorders diagnosed?

Along with a complete health history and physical exam, other tests may include:

  • Measuring the lowest strength of a chemical that you can recognize.

  • Comparing tastes and smells of different chemicals.

  • "Scratch and sniff" tests.

  • "Sip, spit, and rinse" tests where chemicals are placed on certain parts of the tongue.

How are smell and taste disorders treated?

Treatment will depend on your symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is.

Treatment may include:

  • Olfactory training.

  • Treatment of sinus disease.

  • Stopping or changing medicines that help lead to the disorder.

  • Correcting the underlying health problem.

  • Counseling.

  • Quitting smoking.

What are the possible complications of smell and taste disorders?

Both smell and taste disorders affect quality of life, but smell disorders can be dangerous. They make you less able to notice such things as:

  • Fire.

  • Poisonous fumes.

  • Leaking gas.

  • Spoiled food and drinks.

Taste disorders can affect nutrition and lead to weight loss and malnutrition. They can also harm the immune system and worsen other health conditions.

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