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Massachusetts Eye and Ear
/assets/MEE/images/mgb-default-thumb.png Smell and Taste Loss

Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery

Smell and Taste Loss

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Smell loss happens when there is a blockage of airflow getting to the nerves responsible for detecting odors, direct damage to the nerves, or direct damage to the areas of the brain where the sense of smell is processed.

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Many things can cause smell loss, such as sinus disease, head trauma, the common cold, and aging. Sometimes there is no explanation at all. Often, a loss of smell is noticed when you have difficulty tasting food. This is because flavor is a combination of smell and taste. With smell loss, the taste of food is reduced to a very bland sensation. Sometimes, patients believe they have taste loss, when it is actually a loss of smell.

Besides the loss of sense of smell, some patients experience a distorted smell, or a "phantom" smell (an odor that other people can't smell).

There are some patients with a true taste loss, though it is much less common. It is difficult to have a complete taste loss, because taste is processed by the surface of the tongue and by three different nerves. It is more common to have decreased or altered taste (often described as "metallic") than a total taste loss.

True taste loss has many causes, including infection, central brain disorders, nutritional deficits, or complications in surgery of the mouth or ear.

3Common Symptoms

  • Dulled sense of smell
  • Difficulty tasting food
  • Weight loss

Diagnosis and Treatment

In many cases, the cause of taste loss is unknown. The ability to treat taste loss depends on the ability to identify the cause. Your physician will evaluate the smell/taste loss through an extensive discussion of your history and by an endoscopic examination of your nasal cavity. A smell test may also be performed. If smell loss is ruled out, we administer a taste test. Depending on the results, further testing such as an MRI or CT scan may be needed.

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