Elderly people eating and not wondering "Can you lose your sense of smell"

You’ve enjoyed flavorful food since you were young. The spicier, the better. These days, though, it feels like food is blander than it used to be. Are people making food differently, or are you changing somehow?

Your nose, your mouth, and their links

Darrell Klotz, MD

Your sense of smell works when molecules stimulate receptors on the olfactory sensory neurons in the back of the nose, which send messages to your brain. Your sense of taste works when your taste buds – clusters of sensory cells connected to nerve fibers located primarily on the tongue – and your olfactory nerves send signals to your brain about the food you’re eating.

“Our sense of smell and taste are integral components to our daily experience of life,” CEENTA ENT doctor Darrell Klotz, MD, said. “These special senses enrich our life and are a powerful persuader of whether a place we are visiting, an experience we are having, or a meal we are eating is a positive one or not.”

How can you lose your sense of smell?

It is possible to lose your sense of smell as you age. About 25 percent of men and 11 percent of women between the ages of 60 and 69 have a smelling disorder. Also, some medications, like blood pressure medicine, can affect your sense of smell. Cancer treatments may also affect it.

Illness, polyps, chronic sinus infections, or a deviated septum might cause smelling issues, too. Any physical blockage to airflow or chronic inflammation in the nose, such as that seen in chronic sinusitis or smoking, can alter our sense of smell. Sometimes, a routine upper respiratory infection can leave us with a diminished sense of smell for months or even permanently alter our sense of smell due to injury to the smell receptors. Additionally, this type of injury can sometimes lead to phantosmia, or smells that are not there, Dr. Klotz said.Head injuries can cause a brain to move violently within the confinement of the skull and shear the delicate nerve endings as they exit from the brain into the nose.

How can you lose your sense of taste?

As you age, you can slowly lose your ability to regenerate taste buds. Like with your sense of smell, blood pressure medication and cancer treatments – as well as some other medicines – can diminish your ability to taste food. Since our sense of smell is so closely linked to our taste, people who have a primary loss of smell often state that their sense of taste is diminished as well. Also, dental issues, like gum disease or a problem with dentures, can alter the way you taste food. Drinking alcohol and smoking can also be a factor.

Should I see a doctor?

Fortunately, in most of these cases your senses of smell and taste will return with time or if you make changes in your life, such as getting different blood pressure medicine or quitting smoking. However, something like a head injury could lead to a permanent sensory loss.

Also, while you may be mostly concerned about not getting to enjoy your favorite foods anymore, these sensory losses can be a sign of a more serious problem. For example, losing your sense of smell can be a sign of Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s disease.

That said, unless your sensory loss is due to one of the temporary problems listed above, there’s not a lot that can be done to restore your sense of taste. While adding extra seasoning to your food can give it some extra flavor, exercise caution. You don’t want to add extra salt if you already have high blood pressure issues, for example.

Follow your nose to premier medical care

If you find you have troubles smelling or tasting and want to make sure it’s not a serious problem, visit a CEENTA doctor. Our ENT physicians will determine if you need more care or if you just need a bit more spice in your life.

This blog is for informational purposes only. For specific medical questions, please consult your physician. Dr. Klotz practices in our SouthPark office. To make an appointment with him or any of CEENTA’s premier ENT doctors, call 704-295-3000. You can also schedule an appointment online or through myCEENTAchart.


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