Originally posted September 19, 2019
No one likes being sick. The stuffiness, sore throat, and fatigue are bad enough, but the fact that your favorite meal tastes bland makes it worse. But why, exactly, does food taste different when you’re sick?
The tastes we perceive are a combination of both the sense of taste from our taste buds – clusters of sensory cells connected to nerve fibers that receive taste sensations – as well as the sense of smell. When your smell and taste nerves are stimulated, signals are sent to the brain, which translates those signals and identifies what you are tasting. Contrary to popular belief, the human tongue does not have specific regions for different tastes. That means that any part of the tongue that detects taste can pick up the five different tastes.
Your sense of taste is not reserved to just one flavor. While palates may vary, the most common flavors are sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and umami (meaty). Cool and hot are also considered flavor types, though there is debate as to whether they are flavors or more sensations. That said, flavors in food are not restricted to these categories and can further divide into blended flavors.
When we’re sick, our noses are often blocked with mucus. The tissues inside our nose can become swollen and inflamed during congestion, which can prevent you from smelling properly. With your sense of smell being connected to your sense of taste, if you can’t smell things properly, you won’t be able to taste them properly as well. That in turn can affect your enjoyment of food or cause you to misjudge the flavor of what you're eating.
In most cases, once the sickness goes away your sense of taste will be restored. However, in some cases the inflammation can lead to permanent damage. "If it persists beyond two weeks you should be evaluated by an ENT doctor, as it can represent acute sinus infection," CEENTA ENT doctor Jonathan Moss, MD, said. Longer durations of a change in smell or taste can also be symptoms of allergies, nasal polyps, or COVID-19.
If your sense of taste isn’t returning, or you have any concerns about your nose or throat, make an appointment with a CEENTA ENT doctor. They will diagnose you and come up with a treatment plan that helps you get you back to tasting all your favorite foods.
This blog is for informational purposes only. For specific medical questions, please consult your doctor. Dr. Moss sees patients in our Matthews office. Do you need an appointment with an ENT doctor near you? Schedule an appointment online, through myCEENTAchart, or call 704-295-3000.
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